Written by Politics

Copyright Again

Now it seems that the EU has decided that artists and performers should get 95 years’ copyright on their performances following an enormous amount of lobbying on behalf of the record industry (which also does quite nicely out of this).
This is a massive mistake, and let’s hope that the UK government doesn’t meekly fall into line and follow the EU’s lead.
Currently, artists and performers have 50 years’ copyright on their performances, but that means that performances from the likes of Cliff Richard and The Beatles are soon going to be out of copyright (at least their early material will be).
That doesn’t actually mean a free for all, since the compositions themselves will remain copyright and royalties will need to be paid. But of course Cliff Richard didn’t write many of his own songs – he just performed them. So he’s keen to keep get royalties from those performances.
This idea is completely against what the UK government’s own Gowers Report found, as I’ve noted in the past. Indeed the government read that report, agreed with the findings, and rejected them this time last year.
The reality is that these copyrights don’t for the most part really belong to the artists. They belong to record companies in many instances because they have contracts requiring them to pass back royalties to their labels.
Copyright has a long and fascinating history dating back to 17th century Britain. When the Statute of Anne was introduced in 1709, it formed the first proper copyright law and gave authors copyright for 21 years if they’re previously been published, and fourteen years for new publications. After that period, they left copyright.
Nearly every form of art in modern society is a development of something that has come before, and while new technologies mean that there’s still value to be had from materials now leaving copyright, that shouldn’t mean that copyright holders should continue to earn forever.
In fact authors have very generous copyright terms of their full lives plus seventy years in the UK. That’s the reason why very few 20th century authors’ works are available to buy cheaply or freely via websites like Project Gutenberg.
There’s an interesting piece of legislation currently working its way through the US legal system regarding orphan works. These are the titles and publications that nobody’s really interested in – they’re not Cliff Richard or The Beatles. Perhaps they were one-hit wonders of the time, or simply weren’t even popular then. The bookworld contains many thousands of titles that nobody is now interested in, yet are still under copyright. As it stands, nobody can do much with them because the authors or copyright holders can no longer be tracked down, yet they remain under copyright. The bill would allow the use of such titles without enormous remedial penalties should the author emerge from out of the woodwork and want to reclaim their ownership. Google, for example, has just published a list of books that it believes are available for use under the somewhat different copyright laws that exist in the US.
It’s this kind of tying things up with red tape that mean that works of limited interest will never re-appear because there’s simply not enough demand for larger-scale releases and more limited releases are simply not cost efficient.
The UK government needs to stands its ground and reject this EU legislation.