International trade body the IFPI officially requested the European Commission for an extension of Term of Protection for producers and artists, with the goal of ending the discrepancy between the Uni

LONDON -- The music industry's main priority on the legislative agenda in Europe is the issue of protection-term length on recording rights.

The EU is currently reviewing its past Directives on intellectual property. The review will cover the EU Term of Protection Directive ("Duration"). With this in mind, international trade body the IFPI officially requested the European Commission for an extension of Term of Protection for producers and artists, with the goal of ending the discrepancy between the United States and the European Union on the matter.

In the United States, sound recordings are protected for 95 years from the day of recording, in accordance with the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

In most of the European Union, the duration is 50 years after the first release of a sound recording (see below). By this measure, many recordings from the '50s and the '60s will start falling into public domain in the coming years.

Author's rights have a different term of duration. In most countries, copyright in a work endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author's death.

"It's remarkable that Europe, which is the source of such a rich and diverse range of musical repertoire, should offer less protection than, for example, the U.S.A., where the term is 95 years," notes Jason Berman, IFPI chairman/CEO. "There are many other markets where recordings are granted a longer term of protection than in Europe. Australia recently committed to extending its term of protection from 50 to 70 years in a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. The EU should not delay in introducing a higher level of protection."

At the moment, the Commission is proposing only a few changes the current intellectual property Directives, prompting the industry to press the Commission for more action.

Brussels-based IFPI senior communications executive Francine Cunningham says the Commission "does not intend to propose an extension of term of protection for producers and artists. IFPI is therefore working with artists on a petition asking for term of protection in the EU to be brought in line with the longer terms in many other major music markets. We'll be working with the European Parliament and national governments to convince the Commission to amend its approach."

Peter Jamieson, executive chairman of British trade body the BPI, asked this week in his speech at the organization's AGM for the industry "to step up a gear or two in our campaign to lobby for a similar term in the EU (to the U.S.' term)."

Jamieson's concern is that "the end of the sound-recording copyright on the explosion of British popular music in the late 50s and 60s, not just the Beatles, but many other British artists, is only a short period away."

He warns, "If nothing is done, they will suffer loss of income -- not just for their sales in the U.K., but their sales across the globe."

Richard Constant, general counsel at Universal Music International, is enthusiastic for an increase in mechanical term protection. He would be "disappointed" if an extension fell short of 70 years on song copyrights.

"We are hugely active in the back-catalog area," he declares. "We would be in deep trouble if we didn't work it, because it accounts for a large proportion of our income."

Nigel Parker, joint founder and legal adviser of the British Assn. of United Recording Artists, also favors an extension to 70 or 80 years as a realistic first step towards parity with other copyright works.

"Since our foundation over 10 years ago, we have always believed that the extension in the term of copyright in sound recordings is a key issue," Parker says. "The release of public-domain recordings without royalty payment is the inevitable consequence of expiry of the copyright term.

"It's a very important issue for us because many performers live out their lives in penury while PD companies cash in on music to which they made no contribution. Given the huge increase over the past 50 years in the importance of sound recordings to consumers, the law should grant performers equivalent protection to composers."

Berman sees harmonization of the duration as useful in regulating online activity. "Having vastly different terms of protection in different parts of the world hampers the development of legitimate online music services," he observes. "Public-domain recordings in Europe, for example, may be distributed online from a European country into the U.S. where such acts amount to an infringement. In such cases, effective enforcement of right may be difficult.

"A longer uniform term of protection would provide an incentive for the development of new ways of disseminating back catalog and specialized genres online."

Duration terms of sound recordings:

50 years
U.K. (from the end of the year in which the recording was made); Germany (from the end of the calendar year of the first publication); Denmark (as for Germany); Sweden (as for Germany); Norway (as for Germany); New Zealand (as for Germany); Czech Republic (as for Germany); Cyprus (as for Germany); Latvia (as for Germany); Hungary (as for Germany); Malta (as for Germany); Poland (as for Germany); Slovakia (as for Germany); Switzerland (from Dec. 31 of the year of publication); China (as for Switzerland); France (from Jan.1 of the year following that in which the recording was made); Belgium (as for France); Netherlands (as for France); Luxembourg (as for France); Russia (as for France); Japan (as for France); Estonia (as for France); Slovenia (as for France); Finland (from the year in which the recording was made); Lithuania (as for Finland); Argentina (following the death of the author).

60 years
India (from beginning of the calendar year following that of first publication).

70 years
Australia (from the end of the year in which the recording was first published); Brazil (from Jan.1 following the year of fixation).

95 years
U.S.A. (from first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first).