EU Extends Copyright Protection From 50 To 70 Years

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Over the objections of eight countries, ministers from the European Union on Monday extended copyright protection for performers and record producers from 50 to 70 years. The move brought cheers from the recording industry and copyright royalty collecting societies, but doubts from some governments and jeers from a major consumer group.

Under Directive 2006/116/EC on the terms of protection of copyright and certain related rights, performers and record producers have 50 years’ protection, the European Parliament and Council said in a 1 September draft setting out amendments to the earlier law. For performers, the period starts with the performance itself or when its fixation is first lawfully published or communicated to the public within 50 years after it is made. For record producers, the period starts when the sound recording is fixed or lawfully published or communicated to the public within 50 years after fixation.

Performers often start their careers young, and the 50-year term means many are not protected for their entire lifetimes and may face an income gap later in life, the EU Council of Ministers said 12 September. That is why the term should be lengthened to 70 years, it said.

The changes also allow the rights in the fixation of a performance to revert to the performer if a record label fails to offer the music for sale in sufficient quantity, the draft directive said. It recommends that governments require record producers to set aside, at least annually, 20 percent of the revenue from the exclusive distribution, reproduction and making available rights for performers whose performances were fixed in a recording and who assigned their rights to a record producer for a one-time payment.

In addition, performers who assigned their rights to producers in exchange for royalties or other remuneration should be given a “clean slate” to prevent their royalties during the new 20-year period from being reduced by advance payments or other contract deductions, the draft said. The directive also harmonises the way of calculating the term of protection of songs and other musical works with words by several authors, extending it to 70 years after the death of the last person to survive, whether the author of the lyrics or the musical composer.

All 27 EU nations must incorporate the new provisions into national law within two years, the Council said.

Eight Countries Reject Extension

Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden voted against the new rules, and Austria and Estonia abstained, the Council said.

While it is important to take all relevant aspects and involved interests into account in order to maintain a fair balance in the copyright system, lengthening the term for sound recordings as proposed “is neither fair nor balanced” and risks undermining the respect for copyright even further, Sweden said in a 2 September declaration to the Council.

The measure will mainly “benefit record producers and not performing artists,” negatively affect access to cultural material in libraries and archives, and add financial and administrative burdens to companies, broadcasters and consumers, Belgium said.

The original proposal came from the European Commission in July 2008, and the final acceptance was taken today by national ministers of internal market, industry, and research. EU Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said the changes “will make a real difference for performers.”

Recording Industry Thrilled, Consumer Groups Not

The modifications will allow established artists to benefit from their work throughout their lifetimes as licensed digital services make music widely available online, said International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) Chairman Placido Domingo.

Independent research in 2006 suggested that the quantifiable benefit to performers and producers could be between €44 million euros and €843 million euros if the copyright term had been extended to 95 years, an IFPI spokesman told Intellectual Property Watch. Establishing the session musician’s fund and the “use it or lose it” principle enshrined in the directive will ensure featured artists and session musicians benefit from the change, he said.

The study also suggested that consumers would not see higher prices; there would merely be a “readjustment of the value chain,” with royalties from older music going to performers and producers rather than public domain record companies that do not invest in new talent, he said.

The amendments should not affect the rates on online infringement, the IFPI spokesman said. Digital piracy tends to be driven by the easy availability of infringing music and the prevalence of broadband rates, he said. Research shows that most music downloaded illegally consists of major chart tunes, with consumption mirroring the legal market, he said.

The British Phonographic Industry, Musicians’ Union, Association of Independent Music and music licensing company PPL hailed the directive as “an enormously positive step for everyone in British music – including music fans, featured artists, session musicians, producers and record labels.” Without the extension, key recordings from the 1960s risk falling out of copyright, but the enduring appeal of music from that era means the UK will gain significantly, they said.

Narrowing the copyright gap with the US and other territories “is an essential move for Europe to capitalise on its world-leading position in creating music,” said the Independent Music Companies Association.

But the European Consumers’ Organisation said EU consumers will now have to wait 20 years longer than before for recordings to enter the public domain. The new measures “serves a select few famous older artists and will prompt more and higher license fees for buyers,” said Director General Monique Goyens. “It further fossilises European copyright law.”

“It means that Big Music gets to collect more money – there are almost no artists that are making a significant amount of money from music that they produced 50 years ago,” said European Digital Rights Advocacy Coordinator Joe McNamee. Those making money from their music 50 years later are certainly less in need of the extra “protection” than any other part of either the artistic community or society at large, he said.

For the average user, the revised directive is “yet more proof that European intellectual property law and policy serve to restrict access to culture rather than to support it, undermine the credibility of copyright law and fail to address the real needs of the real artists,” McNamee said.

The Association of European Performers’ Organisations, which represents performers’ collecting societies, applauded the term extension but complained that the new directive fails to cover audiovisual performers who, it said, should have the same rights.

Dugie Standeford may be reached at

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  1. tony says

    I think the sound recording term extension is more concerned with allowing performers to continue to share in performance royalties – extending the copyright was the only way to do it. It is doubtful whether the extension will be applied retrospectively, and will probably only affect recordings published after 1961.

  2. srelu says

    While a few artists survive 70 years after their performance, most don’t. A fair approach would be to offer an unconditional 50 years of copyright protection and extend that protection for the entire lifetime of the artist if he’s still alive after those 50 years.


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