An issue that regularly features in copyright reform debates is the issue of extending copyright terms for different works. I had blogged earlier
about the proposed amendment to the Indian Copyright Act for extension of copyright terms for photographs and principal directors, expressing concerns about copyright term extension in general. While the Indian amendments might have to wait a while, the European Union has left little to the imagination by adopting a directive
that extends the term of copyright from 50 years to 70 years for sound recordings.
Extension of the Term of Copyright for Sound Recordings
The provisions itself allow for copyright for fixations of performances in sound recordings and for sound recordings themselves to be increased to 70 years (counted from the date of publication or communication to the public). Record companies will have to pay 20% of the revenues earned during the extended period into a fund, which is expected to benefit the performers. The entire direct can be found here.
Ostensible rationale and criticism
It is not surprising that the music companies have positioned themselves as protecting the interest of performers. However, there are huge gaps in the arguments advanced by them. While the music companies claim that these performers start their careers early and face an ‘income gap’ towards the end of their lifetimes, a brief look at the provision itself shows that it is ultimately the labels themselves who will benefit. As the provision adopted shows, record companies would gain roughly 80% of the additional revenues earned from this system, while only about 20% is diverted to a fund for the benefit of the artists, of which, the bigger artists are sure to bag a considerable amount.
Admittedly, there do exist aging musicians whose works will no longer be protected by copyright, and as such, will cause of a destruction of income source for them. But one fails to see why an extension of copyright was considered to be the most efficient method of alleviating their financial problems. Surely this benefit must be weighed against the obvious disadvantages in depleting the public domain of works that have incredible creative potential when stripped off copyright (the entire Beatles catalogue was expected to enter the public domain).
The term of protection was left unchanged for any performer’s rights which are not fixed in a phonogram. The term of protection was also left unchanged at 50 years for producers of the first fixation of a film, and for broadcasts. There appears to be no rationale for this exclusion. Unless the EU is secretly making payments to artists connected with these works, this directive does nothing to prevent the ‘income gap’ that they would ordinarily be expected to face as well.
It’s not just bloggers, scholar and academics who have identified the ridiculousness of such unnecessary copyright extensions and the scheming strategies of the record labels. Sweden and Belgium in the Council meetings, expressed their concerns about the move. Sweden stated that ‘extending the term of protection for sound recordings as proposed is neither fair nor balanced’ and more importantly ‘Sweden believes there to be good reasons for measures aiming at improving the situation for those professional musicians and other artists who often operate under economically difficult conditions. Extending the term of protection will however not primarily be of benefit to this group.’
Likewise, Belgium stated that ‘the negative consequences the proposal entails do not outweigh the advantages it brings.’ When country representative in the EU make statements such as this, it becomes all too clear that industry lobbying by the record companies had a lot to do with pushing this directive to realisation.
Let’s hope the same is not followed in different jurisdictions cause we might just reach a point where copyright terms extend indefinitely, where even classic songs from centuries before will require licensing procedures, raise potential infringement suits and place limitations on creativity and innovation.