A couple of weeks ago, the EU Council voted to extend the copyright term for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years (with composers’ copyright protection already subsisting until 70 years after their death). This is good news for bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, and the Beatles, whose copyright protection was about to expire, as it means that they will continue to receive royalties for their songs further into their retirement. But what will the wider impact be?
Once copyright protection comes to an end, anyone can use the songs in any way they like without having to obtain consent from the copyright owner, for example in remixes or spoofs. As Abba star Bjorn Ulvaeus put it, “Now I won’t have to see Abba being used in a TV commercial…” It also means of course that the performer and/or record label fail to receive any further royalty payments.
This is a victory in a long-running campaign by record companies and artists to try and extend the life of copyright protection. This has come about because people are now living a lot longer, and in the case of many famous musicians like Cliff Richard, they are likely to outlive their copyright protection in their earliest hits (which is why the campaign as been called “Cliff’s Law”).
In 2006 and 2008 the UK campaign failed in its attempt to persuade to the government to increase copyright protection to a minimum of 95 years, which would have brought the UK into line with America. Although the Hargreaves Report on IP and Growth (see earlier post on this here) recommended changes to the current system, for much the same reasons as those stated by the Council of the European Union that performers “generally started their careers at a young age”, and as such the 50 years of protection “did not protect their performances for their entire lifetime..” It has not however, received unanimous support from all European governments, with Belgium and Sweden amongst others protesting.
Of course, the EU Council’s ruling will now mean that domestic copyright laws need to be amended to incorporate the modified directive 2006/116/EC by 2014.
Now, while you can’t really argue with the intention here, it has been suggested by critics that the changes will only really benefit a few very successful individuals. A large amount of sound recordings probably disappear into the mists of time long before the current 50 year protection expires, so a further 20 years of protection is not likely to provide much of an increase in royalties. And of course, record companies are more likely to be receiving the royalties (or a higher percentage at least) than individuals in most cases.
The Beatles will be relieved though, as their first hit single, Love Me Do, will reach its 50th anniversary in 2012. I'm sure they will be looking to renew the lease on their "Yellow Submarine" until 2033!