Rock veterans win copyright fight
Critics argue that many musicians will see little benefit, with most income going to big stars and record labels.
The change applies to the copyright on studio recordings, which is often owned by record labels, rather than the right to the composition, which is owned by the songwriters.
Under the 50-year rule, the copyright on songs by The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who would have expired in the next few years.
That would have meant that anyone could have used and sold those songs in any way, and the performers and record labels would have ceased to receive royalties.
Rolling Stone Mick Jagger told the BBC that the EU’s decision was “obviously advantageous” to musicians.
Abba star Bjorn Ulvaeus added that one benefit was that he would retain control over how his compositions were used in the future.
“Now I won’t have to see Abba being used in a TV commercial,” he said. “And the thousands of lesser-known musicians around Europe who are enriching our life and culture can get the fair reward in return for their work that they deserve.”
Announcing the ruling, the council of the European Union said: “Performers generally start their careers young and the current term of protection of 50 years often does not protect their performances for their entire lifetime.
“Therefore, some performers face an income gap at the end of their lifetimes.”
The new law also includes a number of provisions designed to ensure that musicians see a fair proportion of the extra income, including a fund for musicians who signed away their rights when a recording was made.
The fund will be financed by record labels, who put aside a percentage of the benefits they get from the prolonged copyright.
There is also a clause to allow performers to renegotiate contracts with record labels after 50 years.
And artists will be able to regain the rights to a recording if their label has kept it in a vault and not made it available to the public.
John Smith, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said it was a “brilliant moment”.
“We were having to deal with quite old people who were saying: ‘My music’s been used for something else – it’s been sampled, it’s been used in a pop song, it’s been used in an advert.’ And we couldn’t do anything for them.”
Geoff Taylor, head of the BPI, which represents record labels, added that the ruling would “ensure that UK record labels can continue to reinvest income from sales of early recordings in supporting new British talent”.
The move comes five years after the government-backed Gowers Report into copyright rejected the arguments for an extension.
It said change would “negatively impact upon consumers and industry”, noting that the average level of royalties paid to performers from sales was “very low”.
It also cited research by the University of Cambridge, which suggested that the benefits to artists would be highly skewed in favour of “a relatively small number of performers of successful older works”.
In May, another government-commissioned report by Professor Ian Hargreaves said the effect of an extension to copyright would be “economically detrimental”.
Jim Killock, executive director of the campaigning organisation the Open Rights Group, said there was “never any evidence it was going to do any good”.
He said: “It puts money into the pockets of big labels. It’s unlikely to benefit smaller artists and it will mean that a lot of sound recordings that are out of print will stay out of print.”
BBC News 12.09.2011