The EU Commission is proposing an extension to copyright on sound recordings, the same idea having been rejected by the UK government last year. At present, copyright on a recording lasts for 50 years, after which it enters the public domain. The proposal is for the copyright to be extended to 95 years.
Unsurprisingly, the proposal is being backed by big names in the music world such as Sir Cliff Richard, whose first recording will go out of copyright next year, and Sir Paul McCartney, with the Beatles’ first recordings currently set to enter the public domain in 2013.
It’s important to understand that this proposal concerns recordings, and not the copyright on original compositions or lyrics. Copyright on those lasts for life plus 70 years, in recognition of the creativity put into producing an original work. This is quite different from simply performing someone else’s work. A singer who is talented enough to write his own songs should be less concerned about the copyright on the recordings as he (or his estate) will continue to receive royalties from the work itself.
An actor on stage, whether in Stratford or the West End, will be paid for the performance, then that’s it. The same is true of a musician performing live. There is no further income after the performance has finished. When an architect designs a new building, he is paid a fee for the work. Neither he, nor the engineers and building contractors who actually build it, will receive royalties every time someone looks at the building, or from the people who use it.
This is just an attempt by the music industry, and from a few big-name artists, to grab even more money when they have made enough already. If the so-called stars want a pension, they should make sure they put aside some of their income to provide for them in old age, just as everyone else has to, instead of spending it on an extravagant lifestyle. I can’t imagine either Sir Cliff or Sir Paul is living on the poverty line. And as for the argument that they are doing this on behalf of all the small-time artists and backstage staff, the fact is that most of these had to sign away their rights to royalties to the record company in order to receive the modest session fee they were paid at the time.
Copyright has historically been a balance between the rights of those producing the works and the public, allowing artists to have a chance to profit from their work, while ensuring it can still be enjoyed and built upon in the way it historically always has been. The greed of those calling for the change in the law can not be allowed to destroy this principle. The new law would mean people could no longer share or enjoy old recordings that have long since been deleted from record companies’ catalogues, be they of rock and roll, or classical performances by long-dead conductors.
The proposal still has to be agreed by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament, and the latter in particular has been known to listen to the people on similar issues such as software patents. To help defeat the extension of copyright, please sign the petition against it.