SOUND COPYRIGHT : THE SAGA RUMBLES ON!
At the end of the Editors report on the findings
of the European Study on Sound Copyright Extension in our
last issue (page 16), the following words appeared: "
[it is] inconceivable that politicians will dare to ignore
the findings". Well, they have!
In May the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of
the House of Commons published a report disagreeing with
the findings of the Gowers Review and recommended that the
government should negotiate a period of 70 years for sound
copyright to apply throughout Europe.
Upon investigation it transpired that this committee had
not sought the views of interested parties, but had merely
been influenced by pressure exerted upon it by the British
Phonographic Industry (BPI). MPs had been lobbied with CDs
purporting to illustrate the musical riches that would be
lost to the nation (and presumably its musical
heritage) if the 50 year rule remains when all the wonderful
and glorious pop music recordings from the 1960s start to
fall out of copyright.
Letters were sent to the chairman of the committee, John
Whittingdale MP, by Alan Bunting and David Ades, but as
we go to press no acknowledgements had been received. In
his letter Alan stated:
"The issue which concerns me is the extension of copyright
in sound recordings and I was most perturbed to read that
the Committee has disagreed with the recommendations of
The Gowers Review Of Intellectual Property and suggested
that a term of 70 years be negotiated throughout Europe.
My initial surprise when I read the summary became concern
when I read the minutes of the meetings and studied the
written submissions to the Committee. I failed to find any
submission which supported the retention of the 50 year
copyright, despite the fact that over 90% of the submissions
to the Gowers Review did. Virtually all of the submissions
to your committee came from organisations, many of them
with vested interests in copyright extension. I suspect
the main reason for this is that, although the Gowers review
was widely publicised and called for evidence from all quarters,
there was no such publicity given to your investigation.
Indeed, I was not aware that it was happening nor, I have
now discovered, were several of my contacts who, like me,
had submitted evidence to the Gowers Review.
When I went on to read the sometimes inaccurate and misleading
answers given by representatives of the BPI and others to
the questions posed, it became clear why you came to the
conclusion you did.
It would also appear (unless I have missed it in the minutes)
that the Committee was not made aware of an investigation
commissioned and published by The European Union - "The
Recasting of Copyright & Related Rights for the Knowledge
Economy". This, like Gowers, investigated sound recording
copyright extension and came to the same conclusions but
expressed them in much stronger terms indeed, this
report made a good case for actually reducing the copyright
The full text of this report is, of course, readily available
but for your convenience I have attached an excellent summary
of it by David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society (which
is also opposed to any extension of copyright) which will
be published in the next issue of their magazine "Journal
I wasnt sure from either your report, or the minutes,
if the Gowers Review and, more importantly, the many submissions
to it, were studied in depth by all of the committee. If
they were, it should have been clear to anyone reading them
carefully that virtually no one except the record industry
supported a copyright extension and also that the arguments
put forward by the industry were not only flimsy but, in
some instances, dishonest.
I appreciate that the Committees report cannot now
be changed but I am most concerned that MPs and others will
read it and accept it without appreciating the damage to
Britains culture that a copyright extension would
This concern was heightened when, just as I was preparing
the final version of this letter I learned that, under the
Ten Minute Rule, a Labour MP is planning to introduce a
bill calling for an extension."
This bill received (and passed) its first reading on 8
May with virtually no prior warning to the public at large.
The MP in question is Michael Connarty, who happens to be
the MP for a constituency adjacent to Alans. However,
when Alan asked if they could meet to discuss it, he declined
on the grounds that Alan was not one of his constituents.
In written replies to criticism of his stance he defended
it on the grounds that "it is what the artists I know
want". The second reading of the bill was scheduled
for 29 June, but didnt take place due to the fact
that there was neither sufficient time nor enough MPs present
to vote on it. It is currently listed in Hansard as both
"not printed" and "lapsed" which hopefully
means that it has died at least for the time being.
But just as we were hoping that common sense might have
finally prevailed, on 4 July a wannabe future prime minister,
in other words Conservative leader, David Cameron, gets
to his feet and makes a fool of himself. He said a future
Conservative Government would bow to the record industrys
wishes and increase the sound copyright term to 70 years.
The London Times reported:
"Addressing the British Phonographic Industry annual
meeting, Mr Cameron said: Most people think these
are all multimillionaires living in some penthouse flat.
The reality is that many of these are low-earning session
musicians who will be losing a vital pension.
Rejecting a report commissioned by Gordon Brown, which
said that there was no case for extending copyright, Mr
Cameron quoted research which found that the change could
boost the music industry by £3.3 billion over the next 50
He argued that extending the term would give an incentive
to the music industry to digitise both older and niche repertoire
which more people can enjoy at no extra cost."
The Times report on their internet website invited comments,
and Messrs Bunting and Ades were quick to point out the
weaknesses in Camerons position. Many other Times
readers also added their opinions; no one supported Camerons
stance on this matter. E-mails were sent to him at the House
of Commons and, in response to messages received, David
Cameron's office insultingly issued a standard reply which
made no attempt whatsoever to answer any of the valid points
Further potentially "bad news" is the fact that
back in the new cabinet as Culture Minister is James Purnell
who, when he previously occupied the post, was firmly committed
to bowing to the BPIs demands to extend copyright.
It should be emphasised that the RFS is not alone in opposing
an increase in the sound copyright term from 50 to 70 years.
The internet is buzzing with many other freedom of
speech organisations who take a similar view.
RFS member Terry Charlton recently sent us a cutting from
the April 2007 issue of the American magazine "Jazz
Times". Columnist Gary Giddins contributed a thoughtful
piece on the problems facing the music industry in the USA,
with regard to downloads from the internet and more pressing
problems such as the sound copyright situation across the
Atlantic. Giddins pointed out that the foreign-owned music
giants in the USA have no interest in making the nations
cultural heritage available. He concluded: "If Sony/BMG
feels no obligation toward its archival history, the least
it could do is open its vaults for fire-sale leasing. Its
undoubtedly too much to ask the Supreme Court to examine
its foul copyright extensions. The fact that this Japanese-German
holding company can insist that it continues to own 1923
classic American records, which it has no interest in marketing,
We must not allow this situation to arise in Britain and
Europe. We urge all RFS members and readers who agree that
the sound opyright term should not be increased beyond the
present 50 years to make their feelings known to their MPs.
Write to them at House of Commons, Westminster, London,
SW1A 0AA or send an e-mail direct to your MP: (name plus
initial, such as) email@example.com
Footnote Literally as this issue closed for press
we were made aware of a new paper on the economically optimal
term of copyright presented to a Berlin conference in July
by Rufus Pollock, a PhD candidate in
economics at Cambridge University. After extensive study
he has come to the conclusion that, using a combination
of new and existing data on recordings and books, the evidence
strongly reveals that the optimal term is around fourteen
years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright
term and implies that existing copyright terms are too long.
This should give the record industry, and some gullible
politicians, a few things to think about!
This article appeared in Journal Into Melody
September 2007. Just before publication date the UK Government
announced that it was not proposing to alter the current
50-year period for the copyright on sound recordings.