Business Matters: Make No Mistake, EU Copyright Extension Is Good for Record Labels, Too
Business Matters: Make No Mistake, EU Copyright Extension Is Good for Record Labels, Too

The European Union has extended the term of copyright protection offered to sound recordings from 50 to 70 years, following a prolonged campaign from the music industry.

The legislation, which was first proposed by the European Commission in 2008 and voted on by the European Parliament in April 2009, was passed today (Sept. 12) by the EU Council of Ministers in Brussels. The new regulations will be implemented by EU Member State Governments within the next two years.

"The new directive intends to increase the level of protection of performers by acknowledging their creative and artistic contributions," said the council of the European Union in a statement announcing the ruling.

As a result of the extension, many popular titles released nearly 50 years ago will not fall into the public domain for another 20 years. Chief among the artists to benefit is the Beatles: The band's first single, "Love Me Do," was released in October of 1962.

While the extension benefits both record labels and performing artists, it is being marketed mainly as a benefit to artists. "Performers generally start their careers young and the current term of protection of 50 years often does not protect their performances for their entire lifetime. Therefore, some performers face an income gap at the end of their lifetimes. They are also often not able to rely on their rights to prevent or restrict objectionable uses of their performances that may occur during their lifetimes," the council went on to say.

The new legislation, which has become known as "Cliff's Law" in the U.K. named after Sir Cliff Richard, a long term campaigner for copyright extension, applies to performing artists, producers and sessions musicians featured on recorded works. European law already dictates that composers receive copyright protection lasting 70 years after their death.

Additional measures contained in the E.U. directive include:

* A substantial new fund for session musicians from record company revenues in the extended term.

* A requirement for labels to ensure all recordings are commercially available, failing which the artist will be entitled to release their recordings themselves.

* A 'clean slate' for featured artists, writing off any un-recouped advances so that artists receive full royalties in the extended term.

"The decision to extend the term of protection for recordings in Europe is great news for performing artists," said Plácido Domingo, chairman of international trade body IFPI, in a statement welcoming the ruling.

"This is especially important today when licensed digital services make music widely available online. Extension of protection also reflects the important role performers play in the success of songs by narrowing the gap between the protection offered to recorded performances and that offered to compositions," Domingo went on to say.

In an accompanying statement, Frances Moore, chief executive of IFPI, called the EU directive "a victory for fairness."

"With this decision, the European Union is giving artists and producers in Europe the fair treatment they deserve. The extension of the term of protection to 70 years narrows the gap between Europe and its international partners and improves the conditions for investment in new talent," Moore went on to say, citing a body of over "38,000 artists and performers" who had actively petitioned for copyright extension, supported by right holders from across the European music sector. U2 manager Paul McGuinness echoed Moore's comments, calling the ruling "a great step forward for artists."

"The EU's decision recognizes the role performers play in bringing a song to life and rightly narrows the gap between the protection offered to them and songwriters," added McGuinness, who has long advocated extending copyright protection beyond the previous 50 year term.

ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus was among the first performers to welcome the verdict, stating, "Now I won't have to see ABBA being used in a TV-commercial and the thousands of lesser known musicians around Europe who are enriching our life and culture can get the fair reward in return for their work that they deserve."

Executives from the U.K. music industry have also come out in force to welcome the decision, with Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive of U.K. labels body BPI, stating that the ruling "comes not a moment too soon."

"An exceptional period of British musical genius was about to lose its protection. As a matter of principle, it is right that our musicians should benefit from their creativity during their lifetimes, and that they should not be disadvantaged compared to musicians in other countries," continued Taylor, who added that a longer copyright term will help ensure "that U.K. record labels can continue to reinvest income from sales of early recordings in supporting new British talent and compete effectively in a global market."