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UK rejects proposal for 20 year copyright extension for sound recordings
July 26, 2007

Yesterday the UK Department for Culture, Media & Sport issued a report rejecting a suggestion to push for an extension of copyright term in the EU for sound recordings of 20 additional years, from 50 to 70 years. Citing the Gowers Review of the UK's intellectual property framework, the report notes:

[The Gowers Review] concluded that an extension would not benefit the majority of performers, most of whom have contractual relationships requiring their royalties be paid back to the record label. It also concluded that an extension would have a negative impact on the balance of trade and that it would not increase incentives to create new works.

The effort to extend copyright term was prompted because several popular UK sound recordings are nearing the end of their copyright. In 1998, when a similar situation was facing a particular influential animated work in the United States, U.S. copyrights were extended for 20 additional years with passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (commonly referred to as the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act).

This decision comes shortly after an economics Ph.D. candidate at Cambridge, Rufus Pollock, released a paper asserting that, taking into account compensation for authors and the value of the public domain, the optimal copyright term is 14 years. Interestingly, the first copyright act in the United States allowed a 14 year copyright term, with an optional renewal if the author was still living at the end of the original 14 year term.

The full report, which includes additional discussion regarding Digital Rights Management (DRM), the Creative Commons license, and other copyright issues, is available here. The section relevant to the suggested copyright term extension may be read in full after the jump.

Below is the section of the report relevant to the suggested copyright term extension:

28. We recommend that the Government should press the European Commission to bring forward proposals for an extension of copyright term for sound recordings to at least 70 years, to provide reasonable certainty that an artist will be able to derive benefit from a recording throughout his or her lifetime. (Paragraph 236)

The Government appreciates the work of the Committee and the deliberation it has given to this subject. As the Committee noted, the independent Gowers Review also considered this issue in detail and recommended that the European Commission retain a term of protection for sound recordings and performers of 50 years. The Review undertook a detailed analysis of all the arguments put forward, including the moral arguments regarding the treatment of performers. It concluded that an extension would not benefit the majority of performers, most of whom have contractual relationships requiring their royalties be paid back to the record label. It also concluded that an extension would have a negative impact on the balance of trade and that it would not increase incentives to create new works. Furthermore, it considered not just the impact on the music industry but on the economy as a whole, and concluded that an extension would lead to increased costs to industry, such as those who use music – whether to provide ambience in a shop or restaurant or for TV or radio broadcasting – and to consumers who would have to pay royalties for longer. In reaching such conclusions, the Review took account of the question of parity with other countries such as the US, and concluded that, although royalties were payable for longer there, the total amount was likely to be similar – or possibly less – as there were fewer revenue streams available under the US system.

An independent report1, commissioned by the European Commission as part of its ongoing work in reviewing the copyright acquis, also considered the issue of term. It reached the same overall conclusion on this matter as the Gowers Review.

Taking account of the findings of these reports, which carefully considered the impact on the economy as a whole, and without further substantive evidence to the contrary, it does not seem appropriate for the Government to press the Commission for action at this stage.

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