Thursday, February 14, 2008

EU commissioner plans to extend copyright term for sound recordings

Via Michael Holloway on the ORG list and Europa: "Commissioner Charlie McCreevy today announced his intention to propose to the College that the term of copyright protection for European performers be increased from 50 to 95 years. Summarising the main thrust of the proposal, Commissioner McCreevy stated: "I strongly believe that copyright protection for Europe's performers represents a moral right to control the use of their work and earn a living from their performances. I have not seen a convincing reason why a composer of music should benefit from a term of copyright which extends to the composer's life and 70 years beyond, while the performer should only enjoy 50 years, often not even covering his lifetime It is the performer who gives life to the composition and while most of us have no idea who wrote our favourite song – we can usually name the performer."

McCreevy is the internal market commissioner and it looks as though he has swallowed and is regurgitating music industry PR.

"The Internal Market Commissioner intends to bring forward a proposal to extend the term of protection for sound recordings to 95 years. This proposal should be ready for adoption by the Commission before the summer break of 2008.

If nothing is done, thousands of European performers who recorded in the late fifties and sixties will lose all of their airplay royalties over the next ten years. "I am not talking about featured artists like Cliff Richard or Charles Aznavour. I am talking about the thousands of anonymous session musicians who contributed to sound recordings in the late fifties and sixties. They will no longer get airplay royalties from their recordings. But these royalties are often their sole pension", says Commissioner Charlie Mc Creevy in describing the rationale behind his proposal.

"I am determined to ensure that this extension will benefit all artists – whether featured artists or session musicians," the Commissioner says. "For session musicians, the record companies will set up a fund – a substantial fund reserving at least 20% of the income during the extended term to them. For featured artists, original advances may no longer be set off against royalties in the extended term. That means the artist would get all the royalties during the extended term." he adds.

The Commissioner also proposes a 'use it or lose it' provision. That means that, in case a record company is unwilling to re-release a performance during the extended term, the performer can move to another label."

There's that old soundbite about poor musicians with no pension again. What about poor plumbers with no pension? Will they get paid for 95 years for every tap they fix? And it takes a bit longer to put in a kitchen sink than to sing a song. Performers should be required to do pension planning like everyone else. And it is easy in the case of royalties, as at least you know when they are scheduled to stop.

McCreevy is a chartered accountant and was the Irish finance minister for a time (1997 - 2004) and he knows his way around money but I doubt he ever met an economist in the finance department who told him the term of copyright was too short. He's smart enough to understand the economics and will therefore be approaching the push for copyright term extension from a political rather than an economic or competition perspective.

Update: Remember that the proposal to extend copyright term was recently defeated in the EU parliament's CULT Committee.

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