Tell your MEP to say no to copyright extension

The European Parliament is currently considering proposals that would dramatically increase – close to doubling – the length of copyright in music recordings. We’d like you to tell your MEP to vote no.

Why are these proposals being pushed? Because copyright in many classic recordings from the 50s and early 60s is about to expire, making them part of the public domain.

What would the effect of the proposals be? The result would be to lock up those recordings for a further 45 years, depriving the public of the ability to reissue and rework those recordings. The outcome will be to benefit the music industry and to injure the public interest. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what the leading experts in copyright throughout Europe had to say:

Copyright extension is the enemy of innovation

Sir, Europe’s recorded music was about to experience a wave of innovation. For the first time, a major set of culturally important artefacts was to enter the public domain: the sound recordings of the 1950s and 1960s. Apparently not so. If the European Commission has its way, re-releases and reworkings of recorded sounds will remain at the mercy of right owners for another 45 years. Why?

The record industry succeeded to supply the Commission with evidence that was not opened to public scrutiny: evidence that claims that consumer prices will not rise, that performing artists will earn more, and that the record industry will invest in discovering new talents, as if exclusive rights for 50 years had not provided an opportunity to earn returns.

The Commission’s explanatory memorandum states: “There was no need for external expertise.” Yet, independent external expertise exists. Unanimously, the European centres for intellectual property research have opposed the proposal. The empirical evidence has been summarised succinctly in at least three studies: the Cambridge Study for the UK Gowers Review of 2006; a study conducted by the Amsterdam Institute for Information Law for the Commission itself (2006); and the Bournemouth University statement signed by 50 leading academics in June 2008.

The simple truth is that copyright extension benefits most those who already hold rights. It benefits incumbent holders of major back-catalogues, be they record companies, ageing rock stars or, increasingly, artists’ estates. It does nothing for innovation and creativity. The proposed Term Extension Directive undermines the credibility of the copyright system. It will further alienate a younger generation that, justifiably, fails to see a principled basis.

Many of us sympathise with the financial difficulties that aspiring performers face. However, measures to benefit performers would look rather different. They would target unreasonably exploitative contracts during the existing term, and evaluate remuneration during the performer’s lifetime, not 95 years.

We call on politicians of all parties to examine the case presented to them by right holders in the light of independent evidence.

Professor Lionel Bently, Director, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law, University of Cambridge; Professor Pierre-Jean Benghozi, Chair in Innovation and Regulation in Digital Services; Director, Research in Economics and Management, Ecole polytechnique, CNRS 1, Paris; Professor Michael Blakeney, Co-Director, Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, University of London; Professor Nicholas Cook, Director, AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, Royal Holloway, University of London; Professor Dr. Thomas Dreier, Director, Centre for Information Law, Universität Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology; Professor Dr Josef Drexl, Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Intellectual Property, Munich; Dr Christophe Geiger, Associate Professor and Director elect, Centre for International Industrial Property Studies (CEIPI), University of Strasbourg; Professor Johanna Gibson, Co-Director, Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Centre, University of London; Professor Dr Reto Hilty, Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Intellectual Property, Munich; Professor Dr Thomas Hoeren, Director, Institute for Information, Telecommunications- and Media Law, Münster University; Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, Director, Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam; Professor John Kay, Chair, British Academy Copyright Review; Professor Martin Kretschmer, Director, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University; Professor Dr Annette Kur, Max-Planck-Institute for Intellectual Property, Munich; Professor Hector MacQueen, Co-Director, SCRIPT/AHRC Centre Intellectual Property & Technology Law, University of Edinburgh; Professor Ruth Towse, Professor of the Economics of Creative Industries, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Bournemouth University; Professor Charlotte Waelde, Co-Director, SCRIPT/AHRC Centre Intellectual Property & Technology Law, University of Edinburgh

OK, I’m convinced. What can I do to oppose this? The people to contact are the MEPs for your constituency. A full list (with contact details) is here.

So what should I say when contacting them? A petition against these changes has been organised by (amongst others) the UK Open Rights Group and EDRI . You might like to use the text of that petition (slightly modified):

Dear …

I am a constituent of yours in … and the question of copyright is important to me.

The European Parliament is being asked to nearly double the term of copyright afforded to sound recordings. Industry lobbyists suggest that extending copyright term will help increase the welfare of performers and session musicians. But the Term Extension Directive, which will be voted on by the Legal Affairs Committee in a few weeks’ time, will do no such thing. Instead it will hand millions of euros over to the world’s four major record labels, money that will come direct from the pockets of European consumers. The majority (80%) of recording artists will receive between €0.50 – €26 a year.

Helping poor recording artists is a commendable aim. But the Term Extension Directive insults these good intentions. Andrew Gowers, former editor of the Financial Times, who conducted an independent review into the intellectual property framework for the UK Government in 2006, has called it out of tune with reality. Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, who advises the European Commission on intellectual property issues, has called it a deliberate attempt on behalf of the Commission to mislead Europe’s Parliament. If passed, the Term Extension Directive will have serious consequences for Europe’s IP policy.

* Any extension of copyright term will take money directly from consumers’ pockets. It will also consign a large part of Europe’s cultural heritage to a commercial vacuum.
* Europe’s leading IP research centres have clearly shown the proposal does not do what it purports to do – help the poorest performers. It is simply a windfall for the owners of large back catalogues and the top earning performers.
* The proposal will undermine public respect for copyright law and introduce an unworkable and unproven framework for copyright, at the very time when Europe’s copyright framework needs to be at its most robust.

I therefore ask you to vote to reject this directive.

Yours sincerely…

So when should I contact my MEP? As soon as possible – attempts are being made to fast track this measure through before public opposition grows.