The EU looks like it will vote to extend copyright in sound recordings to a maximum of 70 years. Today’s Financial Times notes that the chief beneficiaries are the record labels, who get an additional term on valuable old copyrights (Love Me Do was due to move to the public domain next year) and will see an uplift in the value of their catalogues.
Given that there is no new money coming in to the industry as a result of this extension its effect will be almost entirely redistributive, from younger artists to older and dead ones, and from small innovative labels to moribund catalogue vaults. It would be interesting to see how our Government is going to justify this as good public policy, even if there is a small increase in our national music export revenue.
And I am reminded of Billy Bragg’s eloquent plea that if copyright is to be extended it reverts to the artists themselves. Far more effective as a pension plan, very fair, and potentially a great stimulant to innovation as a stream of valuable recordings get a chance to be made available under a wider range of business models.
So a windfall for Citibank, a bonus for Vivendi, a smash and grab on the public domain, and the usual raw deal for artists. Trebles all round!
Update: Nitpickers might point to a ‘use it or lose it’ provision, a ‘clean slate’, and a ‘session musicians’ fund’ in the text of the Parliament’s draft directive. I would just point out that the ‘use it’ test is set at a very low level (as far as I can see just selling on iTunes would be enough to satisfy it), and of course the other provisions follow on from that. Very different to a reversion in anyone’s book, and anyway in the gift of the record label.