EU to Extend Copyright, Break Royalty Monopolies

As we mentioned earlier in the week, EU commissioner McCreevy has been pushing for a longer copyright period for recorded performances. This proposal has now passed the commission and is on the way to the parliament. The upside however, is that the commission also aims to break music royalty monopolies.

ue royalteesThe proposal, as we explained on Monday, is simple. Extend copyright by 45 years in order to help ‘struggling session players’ earn money when they’re old. It seems a noble principle, and seems to be one that has convinced commissioners, in any case.

Perhaps the biggest incongruity that came from the announcements about it, is the feeling that session musicians, after being paid for the last 50 years for a single days work, need, all of a sudden to get another 45 years of payment.

You can bet the guy that put paper in the printer, that spat out the plans for McCreevy’s house hasn’t gotten paid for the last 50 years. I’ll bet the architect hasn’t either. However there is some reason that musicians, particularly jobbing musicians without the talent or ambition to head off on their own, should be paid for work of decades past. The press materials put out by the commission tries to spin a brave face on this, with the likes of frequently asked questions, and number 7 asks the question we all have:

7. Have performers not earned enough in the 50 years of protection?

Most performers or singers and session musicians start their career in their early 20’s or even before. That means that the current 50 year protection ends when they will be in their 70’s. Current life expectancy in the EU stands at 75.1 years for men and 81.2 years for women and it is usual for persons to live well into their 80’s and 90’s. Once protection has ended, performers no longer receive any income from their sound recordings. For session musicians and lesser known artists this means that income stops when performers are retired – the most vulnerable period of their lives.

Alas, they have overlooked one important fact. When someone retires, they cease getting paid for their work, since they are NO LONGER WORKING. That is what retirement means. If these session musicians haven’t worked since 1967, they have been retired for the last 40 years. Can we look forward to the Commissioner putting forth more legislation allowing nurses, gardeners, factory workers, mechanics, lorry drivers etc. to retire at 30 as well, safe in the knowledge that they will have their money woes cared for?

However, there was not all doom and gloom as a result of today’s meeting. Two other proposals were also passed that were in some way, better for the artist AND the consumer. First, part of the provision of extending the copyright is a requirement dubbed ‘use it or lose it’. It allows musicians to recover their copyrights from labels, if the label no longer wishes to market the recording. If, after a year of no commercial availability, then the copyright will be rescinded. This could be seen as an attempt to force recordings back into the market, but it will remain to be seen how effective this will be, or how it will be enforced. If selling copies only at a small back street shop in a small town would qualify, for instance.

Of course, of greatest interest to us, is the actions to deal with the royalty collection groups. Until now, they’ve had country monopolies. You play a song in public, and as long as it’s under copyright, you’ve had to pay a fee, regardless of the artist wishing the collection group to do so. As the final shake up of copyright reform, the national franchises such groups have enjoyed (like cable TV companies) will be broken up, and artists will be able to sign with any agency they desire, bringing about, the commission hopes, competition.

However, none of this is binding yet, as it has to be approved by the Parliament. It is worth noting however, that the proposal document lists the history behind the proposal. That in 2004, they issues a call for comments, and later had meetings with certain stakeholders. Stakeholders in the EU context means businesses involved with the subject, not citizens. Tellingly, the proposal itself lists where it seems to have gone wrong

Summary of responses and how they have been taken into account
Responses in favour of term extension came from performers’ associations, the recording
industry, collecting societies, music publishers, performing artists and music managers. Those
against term extension were telecoms, libraries, consumers and public domain companies.
The arguments of those against term extension were addressed in the analysis of impacts of
the various options.
• Collection and use of expertise
There was no need for external expertise.

From first looks at the impact study, it would appear that it only concerned itself with those who have created and published music in the 1950s and 1960s, and the cost difference between public domain, and copyrighted music. A study that had it’s conclusion written into the brief, and hardly representative of the real facts.

Euro-sceptics have disliked the EU for years, and with the increasing evidence that, in this case at least, commissioners are being lead by their wallets, rather than by common sense and the interests of Europe, it’s a sad state of affairs for a body described as “the only body paid to think European”. Clearly, ‘European’ is a euphemism for ‘greedy’, or possibly ‘short-sighted’.

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