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Extension of Copyright Term for Sound Recordings in the EU

September 9, 2011 in External, Free Culture, Public Domain

The following is a guest post, by John Hendrik Weitzmann from iRights.info.

Term extension for sound recordings is imminent on the EU level. iRights.info compiled a dossier about how this was possible and what it is about.

It’s a hostage-taking of the subtle kind and a brilliant piece of lobbying: after the EU Commission’s proposal of 2008 to extend the term of related rights in sound recordings had been softened but passed by the EU Parliament, had faced overwhelming counter-evidence by academia from all across Europe and had finally stalled in the Council in 2009, one was tempted to believe that reason might have triumphed over pork barrel politics.

But not for long. Earlier this year, although a new EU Parliament had been elected in the meantime, the very same extension proposal came back as if nothing had happened. Denmark, Portugal and Finnland had indicated they would no longer oppose it, which led the Polish EU presidency to – on very short notice – push it to the agenda of the COREPER session of Sept 7th. That means that an extension of related rights to 70 years after recording will become EU law probably through agreement of the Council on Sept 12th.

To the interested bystander, the whole process generates a terrible feeling of déja vu. In the Gowers Report of the UK Government it had already as early as 2006 been spelled out in detail (from p. 54) that an extension does more harm than good and why. With support from the CIPIL Report, the negative impact on the British trade balance, and the overall costs for everyone except the four majors – Universal, Sony BMG, Warner Music and EMI – had been exposed in precise economic analysis. The fact that severe hindrance of digitisation efforts and availability of Public Domain works was incurred only to generate marginal increases in revenue from a fraction of recordings of the 1960s had been described at length. Even the EU Commission’s own study by the Institute for Information Law, Amsterdam came to the conclusion that all academic evidence goes against extension of the term. Not even the insistent Bournemouth Declaration, and the more than insistent Joint Academic Statement on Term Extension, both signed by the most honourable copyright law institutions of the continent weren’t enough to counter the fairytale made notorious by former EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy: The EU must help so that the session musicians no longer be the poor cousins of the music business, and extend the term so that their ‘pension’ is secured. This fairytale quite successfully tries to obfuscate the fact that related rights are pure and utter protection of investment, and are in no way also a means to protect creativity as copyright is meant to.

For this nebulisation, the session musicians are ‘taken hostage’ as an argument, while they will never actually see extra money. Instead, corporate greed will apparently be fed by retrospectively extended legal monopolies that verifiably have no effect whatsoever on today’s investment in new music. Such monopolies would be an absolute no-go in all other economic areas except intellectual property. Yet, they are going to grow in time. And will do so not only without a case for this being made, but with the counter case being compellingly strong. As the experts of Cambridge’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) point out, the extending decision once made will factually be irreversible.

Whoever thought that reason was actually gaining ground in copyright politics, at least in Europe, was probably wrong after all.

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