U.K. culture secretary Andy Burnham is recommending a 20-year increase in copyright term to 70 years.

His comments at the U.K. Music Creators' Conference, held at London’s ICA, represent a new position for the British government on copyright. The 2006 Gowers report commissioned by the Treasury recommended maintaining the current 50-year term.

The move follows activity at the European level. In February, European Commission internal markets commissioner Charlie McCreevy backed term extension running to 95 years, and the proposals are going through the European Parliament and will be scrutinized by the Council of Ministers. Several countries have signalled their approval, although Britain has not been among them.

In his speech, Burnham said: "Copyright underpins the music business - and all our creative industries - and the right response when it's put under pressure is not to abandon a system as outdated, but to make it work better. There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime."

He added that he had been working John Denham, secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills, to "consider the arguments for an extension of copyright term for performers from the current 50 years."

Burnham said the discussions were around "an extension to match more closely a performer's expected lifetime, perhaps something like 70 years, for example, given that most people make their best work in their 20s and 30s."

"We must ensure that any extension delivers maximum benefit to performers and musicians. That's the test of any model as we go forward," he added. "It's only right that someone who created or contributed to something of real value gets to benefit for the full course of their life."

Congratulating McCreevy - who was present - for his efforts and pledging to work with him on the right approach, Burnham said: "We want the industry to come back with good, workable ideas as to how a proposal on copyright extension might be framed that directly and predominantly benefits performers - both session and featured musicians."

He stressed that copyright extension needs to be backed up by a system of creative education for young people and investment by the industry in the next generation of artists.

“Music has been hit hard over the last ten years, and if we don't do something there is a real danger that parts of the music industry will be washed away," said Burnham.

U.K. Music, the umbrella organization for music industry bodies, applauded the new direction in government.

CEO Feargal Sharkey said in a statement: "Today's announcement regarding term extension is a clear sign that government, like everyone in our industry, is committed to ensuring that U.K. music retains its status as the very best in the world."

Horace Trubridge, Musicians' Union assistant general secretary, added: "We are delighted that the government has today demonstrated its clear support for the performer community. The MU has always argued that term of protection should not run out during a performer's lifetime, and we would support any proposal that supported this principle and was of direct benefit to performers."