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From their website (blockquotes omitted):

In 2009 Open Rights Group campaigned heavily against a proposed Directive aimed at extending the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. The Directive flew in the face of all the credible evidence.

Despite this the proposal passed the European Parliament on April 23 2009 after heavy lobbying from rights holders – another example of the yawning chasm between evidence and copyright policy. This week, the plans are back in front of the European Council and may soon become law.

That’s where you come in. If enough people write to their MEPs and ask them to make sure the Directive gets proper scrutiny by the European Parliament, we might be able to put the brakes on this process. MEP Christian Engström has written a ‘request for renewed referral’.

Please write to your MEP now and ask them to sign the request and oppose these damaging, ill-considered plans. (For background about the process behind this, see below).

If you are in the UK please write to your MEP here.

If you are not in the UK, please write to your MEP here.

But isn’t making sure artists continue to be paid a good thing?

Yes. But this won’t help the majority of artists and comes at the expense of consumers and our cultural realm. The economic evidence is stacked against the proposal. Leading IP professors, the UK government’s ‘Gowers  Review‘ of IP, and independent economic analysts have all said that extending the copyright term is unwise. The Financial Times labelled the proposal ‘disgraceful’ in an editorial in 2009. It will likely result in higher prices for consumers. It will benefit only a small number of artists and businesses – according to a joint academic statement, signed by 80 eminent academics, including several Nobel Laureates, 96% of the economic returns will go to the major record labels and top 20% of performers. Four leading IP professors this week argued that ‘If there was a policy designed to suppress social and commercial innovation, retrospective term extension would be your choice.’ Large chunks of our cultural history will be locked up.

Looking at the impact on the UK, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge argued that extending the term of protection will ‘likely to have a significant, negative effect, on balance of trade’ and that ‘it would be particularly inadvisable, given our present state of knowledge, for a rational policy-maker to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings.’

You can read more about the evidence here.

Why will writing to my MEP help?

There’s a typically complicated story behind this European decision making process. Since 2009 the Directive has been stuck in the European Council because a number of countries – forming a ‘blocking minority’ – opposed the plans. One of those Denmark. These last weeks it has emerged that they have switched positions, again after they were lobbied heavily by rights holders, and now support the Directive. That means that if the Council accept the proposal as it was passed by the European Parliament, there is little that will stop this going through. However, a new Parliament was elected shortly after the Directive passed. Here’s how MEP Christian Engström described it:

Rule 59 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament state that the EP can reopen a dossier that is still in first reading if a new parliament has been elected since the first reading position was adopted. Since a new European Parliament was elected in June 2009, this is the case.

If 40 or more MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) ask for it, the proposal for a renewed referral will be put to the vote in plenary.If we get a majority there, the President (speaker) of the Parliament shall ask the Commission to refer its proposal again to the parliament. This means that the dossier is open again, and we can have a full discussion about the subject matter.This would be the sensible thing to do.

The previous Parliament’s decision to extend the time for the neighbouring rights was ill considered, and has been heavily criticised by legal and economic scholars. There is no reason for the present Parliament to be bound by it.

This is a dreadful idea that will damage our cultural realm for the benefit of a vanishingly small number of people.

So please write to your MEP now and let’s try and see this off.

If you are in the UK please write to your MEP here.

If you are not in the UK, please write to your MEP here.


  1. Steven, there is a big difference between repealing copyright for all music and refusing to extend copyright from fifty to seventy years for recordings. Almost the only entities that will be hurt are corporations, and a very few living musicians that are getting more money from new music than fifty year old recordings assigned to their old labels. The words and music are still protected, just not the recording from so long ago. Get a grip, and stop trying to lock up the cultural commons forever.

  2. I’m sure Steven is just looking out for poor old geezers like Cliff Richards, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, who will see their monthly royalty checks drop by thousands of pounds each. And then there’s the trickle-down effect, for the thousands of musicians who will see their yearly royalty checks drop from hundreds of pounds to next to nothing. There’s nothing sadder than seeing all these 65-75 year old musicians having to go out on the road performing their one or two hits from the 60s in some sort of nostalgia tour.

  3. This and other organisations like it deserve the support of every reasonable person to fight against the wretched greed of the publishing and music and film industries who are creating a vast money mountain on the shoulders of ordinary people. The politicians are not listening to any other voices, partly because the public have failed to realise the huge corruption of this industry.
    We already have an insane copyright law extending copyright for publishing to long after the creators death ! benefiting those who never contributed a jot to the creation of the work at all. Now we have a greedy and troubled industry trying to screw another 20 years out of the public. It is thoroughly sickening.

    I will be writing another letter to urge this to be rejected. I urge everyone else to do the same.

  4. I just don’t grasp the benefit of extending copyrights to a work (a phonogram!) like this.

    Copyright was created to stimulate the creation and dissemination of artistic expressions, but… it really takes 50 years to recoup the investment in time and resources needed for the generation of that artistic work? How many works would be not recorded because the copyright is “only 50 years”?

    Honestly, copyrights are society granted monopolies to the copy and diffusion of works, and as such, they must be beneficial to society. If it’s only beneficial to the industry, it simply doesn’t makes sense. Bear in mind that the industry is doing what it have to do; as publicly traded companies they strive to maximize their revenue (they have that mandate from their investors), regardless of the societal benefits/damages. I personally think that current copyright durations is more than enough to generate a good ROI (return of investment), for both authors and publishers.

    The benefit of having something in the public domain is that it allows derived works (not only mixes or parts use), and it enriches our wealth of artistic works

    BTW, Sorry for my English, as I’m not a native speaker.

  5. Please.

    We’re not talking about handing down the secret of unlimited energy. We’re talking about music. These aren’t world-changing inventions; they’re entertainment.

    Entertainment that has, in fact, been entertaining us for the duration of its existence. In other words, we have already benefited from its existence for years. Many of us, in fact, have listened to this music on the radio, which does not charge us for listening. And many of us have recorded said music from the radio, paying nothing for it, in order to listen to it at our leisure, for years.

    So claiming that we have not benefited from this entertainment, or that we cannot benefit from it until it is made free to the public, is disingenuous and ludicrous.

    You don’t think Paul or Mick or Cliff deserve to make money off the works they created for you? You think they have too much money? You think the record industry is greedy? Don’t buy their music. Hey, make your own. It’s not as if the world will stop turning, you’ll starve or lose a job, if their work is never, ever heard from again.

    But don’t act like this is anything but a desire to obtain lauded works of entertainment without paying for them, just because they’re old. No sale.

  6. As far as entertainment matter is concerned, I don’t care if public domain never sets in. So, for the sake of providing an answer, I’ll say a minimum of life, with the possibility of extension in cases of family members (minors) who depend on said income.

    And it really makes no difference, since consumers are going to find ways of getting the songs, with or without paying for it, and find some way to justify any rule-bending they apply to get them. Rock on.

  7. Steven,

    When Cliff and Mick and Paul made that music back in the 1960s, the copyright laws in place at the time said “You have renumeration rights to your work for X length of time”, and they must have considered it reasonable, or they would have found other jobs. I don’t care if you get the government to change the laws so that new works will never be out of copyright in my lifetime, since for the most part the laws were already change to do that years ago. What I object to is are the media companies who knew that the property was going to go to public domain after a fixed number of years keep going back to the government to when the copyright term is nearly up and try to get the government to retroactively extend the term, and they cynically use the “think of the poor starving artists” argument to sell it. I don’t know why you’re so gung-ho to retroactively change the terms. If they keep retroactively changing the terms, and it goes to too long a term, they can always start retroactively shortening the terms also.

  8. @Bruce: Thank you for a reasonable rebuttal.

    You’re right, of course: Copyright had a set limit, and the artists/studios have been extending them ever since. The fact that they’ve been getting away with it is directly caused by their ability to “pay their way” into the government’s heart, whereas the public’s voice is ignored. This is a highly regrettable situation (on both sides of the pond), and I wish to the Gods that we could change it.

    Now, I do happen to believe that the original terms have not kept up with the times, the increased longetivity of individuals and artists, and the institution of entertainment corporations as they’ve evolved over the last century. So I am all for examination and reform of current copyright laws, and adjustments to the terms for creative works. I placed a post just the other day, advocating for copyright reform, in case you doubt my motives.

    Dario suggested that copyright is about making sure the creator recoups his costs for creation. That’s not it: Copyright is designed to guarantee the creator has the first and only opportunity to profit from a creation, before others can take that from him and earn a profit from his work. It’s not actually designed to “make things free,” it’s designed to allow someone other than the original creator to make and sell the product after a set period of time.

    The original copyright terms were set to approximate the expected life expectancy of artists, which, at the time, was much shorter than it is today… in other words, it was expected to last most of their working lifetimes. Rewriting the term to be “life” simply removes the approximate range of the barrier and restores its intent. I have no problem with individual copyrights being set to the length of their actual lifetime, and for exceptions to be put in place in case dependents need support beyond the time of death, at least until they are old enough to support themselves.

    Corporations are different from individuals, and I believe there needs to be different terms for them, as opposed to those for individuals. Obviously, a corporation can have a “life” that spans the lifetimes of many people, so for them, a set period, or a level/percentage of profit earned by the corporation, would make sense to me. Of course, it’s considered “unAmerican” to tell someone how much they can or cannot earn (I bet you wouldn’t put up with that), so a fixed period would probably be more acceptable.

    That said… if the government/copyright offices decided that the term should be a shorter set period, say, 20 years… as long as that applied equally to all artists and corporations (or a different figure for corporations, whatever)… I could live with it. I am not bothered either way, because… and here’s the thing I keep saying… we’re only talking about entertainment media. And I’m sorry, but I can’t gather up any sympathy for someone who wants public domain to take effect just so they can download “Hard Day’s Night” without giving someone 99 cents for it. For all the high-minded, theoretical, “best for society” talk, that’s all it really boils down to: Getting stuff for free.

    Brian called it sad that I am not for that. I call it pathetic that anyone is even worried about it.

  9. Well, we all bring our biases with us into this issue, which is a one off from .

    I had no prior knowledge or opinion here- but it struck my fancy so I did a little research.

    This is a European law under debate- and in the US and many other countries the copyright term IS 70 years. Additionally, unlike the EU, the US does NOT recognizes the “Rule of the Shorter Term”- the copyright is still enforceable in America for the full 70 years even after the copyright is up in the originating country.

    So… putting all generic pro- or anti- copyright arguments aside- setting the term at 70 years just makes things less messy.

    But this is like debating tax rates. Most people agree that taxes are a necessary evil- that therefore logically there must be some “fair” rate. But no matter what the current rate is – we always think its too high.

    Maybe they just want to sample “Hard Day’s Night”, and having Lil’ Jon go “skeet, skeet, skeet” on top of it.

  10. “Brian called it sad that I am not for that. I call it pathetic that anyone is even worried about it.”

    I called sad you’re statement that “As far as entertainment matter is concerned, I don’t care if public domain never sets in”. How many wonderful works would be nearly inaccessible if Project Gutenberg didn’t exist because public domain never set in on those titles? How about all the great books and movies derived from folks like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, Kipling, Shakespeare? Would it be so easy to explore great composers like Mozart and Beethoven if there works were still held under copyright?

    As for getting being able to download Hard Days Night without paying .99 cents being in the US it wouldn’t apply to me since the earliest that copyright protection will expire for almost any sounding recording in the US is 2067 (the 1972 US copyright act officially “published” all earlier sound recordings in existence on February 15, 1972 so 75 years + 20 for Sonny Bono = 2067) so it has no bearing for me.

  11. @Steven: I recognize that the difference in opinion stems from the purpose of the copyright. As I understand, you see the purpose of the copyright as a device for the benefit of creators, while I see the purpose of the copyright as a device for the benefit of the works, that is, to make sure that works are created.

    In a SF setting, one could imagine a world in which individuals are monitored for creativeness and after selection, the chosen ones chained for life to create works. But in the real world is simply a matter of taking some compromise so that creating a work is beneficial to the creator. That compromise is the copyright; we restrict the free flow of ideas in some way for the greater benefit of more ideas grown.

    In my humble opinion, that restriction should be the minimal that fulfills the goal, as it hinders other forms of growing ideas (i.e. use the work in forms not sanctioned by the author).

    About the mention that entertainment isn’t as important to be free as a disease cure, I beg to differ. Entertainment is a form of expression, and frequently it enlightens our hopes and desires; it is part of what it makes us human. Don’t know about the songs you mentioned (I’m more into classical and lately some fresh J-pop), but as a whole, sound recordings can add to capture a lot of our current culture.

    In short: letting works drop into public domain is in general good for the society; it has been very beneficial to literature, and I see no reason for sound recordings works don’t benefit too.

  12. @Peter: I hate sampling. The antithesis of creativity. Throw the book at ’em.

    The problem with the current term debate is that you are essentially telling a creator “you can only make so much money on this… or for only such a time.” If the average Joe applied for a job, and was told “you can only do this job for 10 years, and will not be allowed to make more than $50,000 from it,” most Joes would say, “the heck with it… I’ll work someplace where I can work as long as I like and earn whatever I can get.”

    Yet setting copyright limits seeks to take that basic right from creators, and even more significantly, taking their creations, those special works that are considered greater and more socially worthwhile than, say, building a car on an assembly line. You’re asking a creator to create something special, just so it can be taken from them and their earnings can be limited. That’s not great incentive to create, especially in a world that (whether we like it or not) still runs on money.

    As to the works cited above: All of them managed to hang on until their creators were gone, and they fell into public domain. Today’s great works will also stick around beyond the death of the creator, and can then fall into public domain… it won’t hurt anyone to wait. But if those works had not provided payment to the creators, to their creators’ satisfaction… would all of them have been created in the first place?

    Think about it: The best way to assure future creations… is to satisfy the creators that it’s worth their while.

  13. Bruce you are absolutely right. Changing the copyright laws after the work was created is retroactive legislation and should never have taken place. Those works of the Beatles were copyrighted under legislation at that time and that is the term that should apply. No royalty should be payable now. All of that works should be in the public domain and anyone copying or downloading it should be encouraged to enjoy it and disseminate it among their friends to enjoy as well.

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