Copyright Extension Rejected

The government has come out and rejected calls to extend copyright on music performances from 50 years as it currently stands. As I’ve said on a number of occasions, this is suddenly a hot potato because Elvis and Beatles tracks are suddenly falling out of copyright in this country, and a cash cow is finally coming to an end. At the same time, record companies have managed to screw up their own business models by not adapting to the needs of their customers. So if some traditional revenue streams have dried up, they think they can make it up by increasing copyright periods, just because the Americans managed to do the same thing!
I might begin to have some sympathy if some of the labels – step forward Apple – hadn’t been taking the mickey for all these years. I’d say that it was only since Sgt Pepper’s 40th that I’ve seen a reasonably priced Beatles album. Great works they may be, but there’s no excuse for still charging a premium price so far down the road.
I’d also be surprised if many session musicians are losing vast amounts of cash. They tended to be given a one off fee. Nope – it’s the name artists who are losing out. I don’t know the jazz market too well, but I do know that most stuff that’s not by famous artists just sits in a vault (like others have said, I’m pretty sure that you can’t just go out and rip a freshly remastered CD and issue that yourself). And at least now, some of that stuff will start to become available again, and some of those songwriters will start to earn money from it once more.
What seems to have happened is that the Government has read the Gowers Report.
It’s important to remember that copyright doesn’t exist to provide a performer or their beneficiaries with a guaranteed income for many years to come. It was originally put in place to give artists an incentive to create new works – without that protection, anyone could record and sing your song, or republish your book.
There’s a great quote in Gowers’ report from Thomas Babington Macauley made in the House of Commons in 1841:
It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good.
The same report also notes that actually very few performers will actually benefit from an extension of the 50 years performance copyright:
Furthermore, it is not clear that extending term from 50 years to 70 or 95 years would remedy the unequal treatment of performers and producers from composers, who benefit from life plus 70 years protection.
This is because it is not clear that extension of term would benefit musicians and performers very much in practice. The CIPIL report that the Review commissioned states that: most people seem to assume that any extended term would go to record companies rather than performers: either because the record company already owns the copyright or because the performer will, as a standard term of a recording agreement, have purported to assign any extended term that might be created to the copyright holder.

The Gowers Report goes on to explain why any arguments about record companies not being able to invest in talent are specious – nobody banks on a fifty+ year return when most albums don’t sell beyond the first ten years.
Furthermore, Gowers notes, of all the US sound recordings published between 1890 and 1964, an average of 14% has been reissued by the copyright owner and 22% by other parties.
These statistics suggest that the costs of renewing copyright or reissuing copyrighted material are greater than the potential private return, but that these works may have enduring social and cultural value.
The lack of commercial availability impacts upon consumers and users, but it is also worth noting the impact this has for all creators and musicians. Chapter 2 noted the increasing prevalance of licensing and the complexity of rights clearance. If works are protected for a longer period of time, follow-on creators in the future would have to negotiate licences to use the work during that extended period. This has two potential implications: first, the estates and heirs of performers would potentially be able to block usage rights, which may affect future creativity and innovation; and second, this would make tracing rights holders more difficult. Thus extending term may have negative implications for all creators.

Overall, this is good news for music lovers.
But I do look forward to reading next Monday’s Music Week. They’re going to hate it!