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Sound Copyright poses threat to music lovers

Saturday, 02 August 2008 15:04


It seems that politicians always think they know better than experts. The Irish EU Commissioner, supposedly charged with guarding Europe's musical heritage, is proposing changes that could well have the opposite effect.

Despite two exhaustive studies which have come down firmly against extending the present 50 year term for sound copyright, the EU wants to raise it to 95 years.

Consider the following scenario:  a major record company issues a recording which does not sell very well, so it is deleted from the catalogue after five years.  Another record company could ask for permission to license the recording for reissue, but it would involve significant payments in fees which would force a high charge to be made for the CD, and possibly render the whole exercise uneconomic. Fifty years after the original recording was released any record company could reissue the music without having to pay a fee, thereby reducing the cost of production, although royalties would still have to be paid to the composers and lyricists. This is the current situation, and it has resulted in a number of small record companies offering the public many interesting, but previously neglected, recordings of unique material which is no longer of any interest to the major record companies.

If the EU proposals become law, the same recording, deleted five years after the original release, could remain 'lost' to music lovers for a further 90 years. Not only would this greatly diminish the wide variety of recordings currently available, it would also deprive many composers of the opportunity to earn royalties on their music.

Surely it is possible to devise a fair scheme whereby the original recording companies retain the copyright so long as they make the recordings continually available to prospective record buyers. If they fail to keep the recordings in their catalogue, then it should fall into the public domain after a few years so that anyone else could release it if they wished. This would ensure that many fine recordings from the past would be available, rather than locked up in record company vaults for longer than the lifetime of most people on earth.

The main concern must surely be to increase the availability of music, to the general advantage of everyone – especially musicians. The fear is that the EU's proposals would have the opposite effect.

Most of the major record companies are part of giant international entertainment conglomerates controlled by accountants in the USA or Japan. Are these really the right people to be charged with the future of Europe's musical heritage?

The British Government has asked for the public's opinions. Please visit the following website and make your feelings known.

If you need further evidence of the weakness of the European Union's proposals, you need look no further than the USA, where the term of sound copyright was increased in the late 1990s. It has resulted in hardly any releases of vintage recordings. American music lovers now look to Europe for recordings of their great artists from the first half of the last century.

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