Thursday, April 14, 2011

Twenty more years?

The record industry's attempt to get EU copyright terms on sound recordings extended from 50 years to 70 has received a big boost with the recent news that Denmark has switched sides. Previously part of a group that was blocking the Parliament-approved proposal at the Council stage, the Danes appear to have received the requisite number of blow-jobs from industry representatives to change their minds. Fortunately the Pirate Party isn't having this, and MEP Christian Engström has found a rule that could send the proposal back to Parliament, if he gets enough support. More details here.
Of course musicians (or, to use the correct term, copyright holders, which isn't necessarily the same thing at all) need a reasonable period in which they have exclusive profit-making rights to their endeavours. But seventy years? Surely fifty is enough. But of course it isn't, because if fifty is enough then in 2014 the first Beatles albums will be out of copyright, and then all those other still-lucrative acts that defined The Sixties will follow. So obviously this would represent a financial threat to the major labels, and apparently that's sufficient to persuade enough European lawmakers to go along with the idea. And in response the anti-extension campaign is highlighting the financial downside to the proposal.
I wonder if part of the problem - I mean the ease with which the 70-year limit is being accepted - is simply a time perception thing. The out-of-copyright Fifties just seem like history, but the still-copyrighted Sixties are still not too far away, musically and socially, and perhaps when a lobbyist says "we must protect this and make sure the artists are supported" it's easier to agree. And it's easier for the lawmaker to look into the future and think "yes, I'm supporting these important artists for another twenty years". But why doesn't the lawmaker look back? If we had a 70-year limit already, then Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" and Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" would still be in copyright. What is the argument to support that?

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