In September the copyright protection for performers and sound recordings in the EU was extended from 50 to 70 years.
Narrowing the gap between EU and international partners
Under the old rules, music copyright entered the public domain 50 years after a recording was originally made. Music artists including Cliff Richard and Bob Geldof have been campaigning to extend music copyright in the EU to 95 years after recording (as is the case in the United States), which would narrow the gap between Europe and its international partners and guarantee remuneration for performers, who often do not have other regular income.
An impact assessment of the situation of performers and record producers in the EU carried out by Brussels showed that “many European musicians or singers start their career in their early 20’s. That means that when the current 50 year protection ends, they will be in their 70’s and likely to live well into their 80’s and 90’s“, facing as a result an income gap at the end of their lifetimes with the loss of royalty payments from record companies as well as the loss of remuneration for broadcasting or public performance of their recordings.
In response, on 12 September 2011 the European Parliament and the Council adopted a directive to extend the term of protection for performers and sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. The directive narrows the gap between copyright protection for authors (life plus 70 years after the author’s death) and copyright protection for performers.
‘Use it or lose it’
The directive is designed to help performers and introduces the ‘use it or lose it’ provision which record companies will now have to include in the contracts with performers, and which allows performers to get their rights back if the record producer does not market their sound recording further.
Thus, if a record company does not market a recording despite the performers’ request, the performers will get their rights back and can market the recording themselves.
In addition record companies will also have to set up a fund to help session musicians into which they will have to pay 20% of their revenues earned during the extended period. This remuneration will ensure that performers who are forced to sell their rights against a one-off flat fee obtain additional payments.
Issues in online environment
The extended copyright will nevertheless benefit record producers also: record producers are faced with decreasing revenue as a consequence of illegal music downloads and will in this way receive additional revenue from the sales of recordings that would otherwise be in the public domain. European institutions emphasize that there is no reason to believe that the new legislation would raise the retail prices of music.
The question remains of how further extensions of copyright protection will tackle the issues that today’s online environment raises for the music industry, as well as for the online users of musical works, who already often feel unreasonably limited by copyright.