The European Commission today approved an extension to the life of sound recording copyright, from 50 to 90 years - but with a twist.
The EC has insisted on a "use it or lose it" clause, which allows the recordings to revert to the performer if the producer or record company has no desire to market the recording. It's designed to prevent recordings gathering cobwebs in record company vaults, and the new clause can be invoked a year after the 50-year term expires.
"The clause will empower performers to market their early songs themselves," the Commission wrote in a statement.
The EC argued that term extension was justified on the basis that poorly-paid performers, rather than large record companies, were morally justified. Because most CDs fail to recoup, performers who are paid by a percentage of sales rarely see a dime over their session rate. However, when a sound recording is broadcast, the performers get 50 per cent of the resulting royalty. (For their part, the songwriters and composers earn money from another copyright, which remains unchanged at life plus 70 years.) The Commission estimated the term extension would give these performers an average of €150 to €2000 a year.
"We are not talking about featured artists like Sir Cliff Richard or the Beatles here," the commission said in an accompanying FAQ.
"This is about the thousands of anonymous session musicians, who contributed to sound recordings in the late fifties and sixties. They will no longer get airplay royalties from their recordings, even though these royalties often contribute to their pension. They will lose protection just when online retailing promises a new source of revenue."
Last year music manager Keith Harris lamented here that the debate had been skewed to one about the rights of big record companies and established superstars.
The Eurocrats also gave a sharp rebuke to New Labour.
Two years ago, the "freetard-friendly" Gowers Report (penned by NuLab wonks) recommended no term extension at all for sound recordings, and gave a green light to an uncompensated copying "right". The Commission said that Gowers had failed to take account of the creator's moral rights.
In a parallel move, Brussels has recommended changes to the rights enjoyed by national royalty-collecting societies.
Societies enjoy collective bargaining power on behalf of their creator members, when negotiating rates with broadcasters, for example. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said that creators can now assign their rights to whichever collection society they choose, out of the 23 Europe societies. Kroes said the EC hoped the rule change would stimulate the market and improve royalty rates.
CISAC, which represents national collecting societies, described the changes as "illogical", and said creators would end up with lower royalty payments than today. ®