European Union Votes to Extend Copyright Term

By Bill Jones

Last week the European Parliament took a step on the side of the performer in preference to the consumer by voting for an extension of copyright terms in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.  This is to ensure that performers continue to receive royalties for 70 years from the first publication or performances. The EU Commission (Executive Arm) had previously proposed an extension to 95 years.

Not all were in favour of the extension to 70 years – 64% of the votes were in favour, 30% against, with 6% abstentions.  Various advocacy groups had been campaigning against the term extension.

Historically the EU has had consumer benefits as a one of its dominant goals and drivers. This vote may appear as if the EU has biased its decisions towards the right of the citizen rather than the right of the consumer. A citizen is a member of a state whilst a consumer is an artifice of corporate channel management.

Music copyright is split into two parts – one for the performers who made the sound recording and the other for the creators who wrote the song. Copyright for composers and songwriters is a separate law and lasts for 70 years after the death of the writer, which is the current term of copyright for non-corporate works in the United States.

Under current EU laws, recorded musical performances are protected for a maximum of 50 years. This means that over a period of 50 years, performers receive remuneration for each time their work is played on the air and elsewhere. After 50 years, artists lose control over the use of their works and no longer receive this income.   

This increased copyright protection for performers would also benefit producers / record labels, thanks to additional revenues deriving from the extension. Their royalty would however be levied at 20% to create a fund for session musicians who gave up their rights when signing the contract for their performance. Members of European Parliament (MEP’s) amended a provision relating to this fund so as to give collecting societies, which represent performers’ and producers’ interests, the right to administer the annual supplementary remuneration.

The Parliament has also asked the Commission to launch an impact assessment of the situation in the European audiovisual sector by January 2010, with a view to deciding whether a similar copyright extension would benefit the audiovisual world.

And in the “use it or lose it” clause, if producers, 50 years after the publication of a phonogram, do not make it available to the public, performers can ask to terminate the initial contract they signed to transfer their rights to the label. The producer has one year to make the recording available to the public; failing this, his rights will expire. 

The plan has to be passed by EU states in the European Council to become law. If approved by the European Council, the law would apply to all sound recordings that are currently less than 50 years old, as well as new recordings. Member States will have two years to transpose the new legislation into their own laws. With 30% against and, fragile politics and economies demanding new laws, one wonders how keenly national legislators will proceed to new enforceable laws.

This has very interesting implications:  Firstly, what impact does it have on performers’ and producers’ business models and the jurisdictions in which they are incorporated and taxed?

Secondly what impact does it have on rights management systems, architectures and technologies over the 70 years? How does one ensure permanence?

Thirdly how effective will the enforcement monitoring and management be, and finally what will be consumers’ reaction?

Even Susan Boyle might benefit!

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