The European Commission today (July 19) announced plans to review its copyright laws, including the issue of raising protection for recorded music from the current European level of 50 years.

The European Commission today (July 19) announced plans to review its copyright laws, including the issue of raising protection for recorded music from the current European level of 50 years.

The commission -- the European Union's executive authority -- says it will consult all the major players in the copyright sector, including record labels, radio and television lobbies, consumer groups and government representatives. The review will run through October 31.

In a 17-page consultation document, the commission acknowledges calls by record labels to extend copyright protection for recorded music from 50 years to 95, bringing the EU in line with the United States.

However, the Commission's initial assessment suggests this is unnecessary. "There is no apparent justification for such a change, given for example that there are no longer trade distortions arising from different terms of protection within the EU's internal market," it says, adding "in nearly all other industrialized countries, the relevant period is also 50 years."

EU internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein says that seven EU copyright directives had been adopted over the past decade, and it was important to ensure the earlier directives were consistent with those more recent. "This type of nuts-and-bolts work makes a real difference to how EU law works on the ground and we owe it to rights holders and content users, including consumers, to make this important body of EU law as coherent and as simple as possible," he says.

The move comes within weeks of the 50th anniversary of the recording of Elvis Presley’s "That's All Right.” If there is no change to European Union law, the track will fall into the public domain on January 1, 2005.

In the United States, BMG will continue to own the rights to the recording. Under the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, sound recordings are protected for 95 years from the day of recording in the United States. For post-1976 recordings, coverage is the artist's life plus 70 years.

The commission's reluctance to propose any changes in copyright law has been challenged by the International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). "Many important European recordings from both the classical and popular generation are due to fall into the public domain in the coming years," says an IFPI spokeswoman. "It makes no sense that these treasures of the European recording industry receive greater protection abroad than they do back in Europe."

Apart from the United States, Turkey, Brazil and Mexico offer longer protection than the EU, while Australia and Singapore have committed to raising their protection from 50 to 70 years. "We always knew that the European Commission would propose little change to existing legislation," the IFPI spokesperson adds. "It is clear that the EU is seriously lagging behind a worldwide momentum towards longer term of protection."

For more information, see this week’s edition of Billboard.