26 May

Sound Copyright: The Saga Rumbles on!

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At the end of the Editor’s report on the findings of the European Study on Sound Copyright Extension in our last issue (page 16), the following words appeared: "…surely [it is] inconceivable that politicians will dare to ignore the findings". Well, they have!

In May the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons published a report disagreeing with the findings of the Gowers Review and recommended that the government should negotiate a period of 70 years for sound copyright to apply throughout Europe.

Upon investigation it transpired that this committee had not sought the views of interested parties, but had merely been influenced by pressure exerted upon it by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). MPs had been lobbied with CDs purporting to illustrate the musical riches that would be ‘lost’ to the nation (and presumably its musical heritage) if the 50 year rule remains when all the wonderful and glorious pop music recordings from the 1960s start to fall out of copyright.

Letters were sent to the chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, by Alan Bunting and David Ades, but as we go to press no acknowledgements had been received. In his letter Alan stated:

"The issue which concerns me is the extension of copyright in sound recordings and I was most perturbed to read that the Committee has disagreed with the recommendations of The Gowers Review Of Intellectual Property and suggested that a term of 70 years be negotiated throughout Europe.

My initial surprise when I read the summary became concern when I read the minutes of the meetings and studied the written submissions to the Committee. I failed to find any submission which supported the retention of the 50 year copyright, despite the fact that over 90% of the submissions to the Gowers Review did. Virtually all of the submissions to your committee came from organisations, many of them with vested interests in copyright extension. I suspect the main reason for this is that, although the Gowers review was widely publicised and called for evidence from all quarters, there was no such publicity given to your investigation. Indeed, I was not aware that it was happening nor, I have now discovered, were several of my contacts who, like me, had submitted evidence to the Gowers Review.

When I went on to read the sometimes inaccurate and misleading answers given by representatives of the BPI and others to the questions posed, it became clear why you came to the conclusion you did.

It would also appear (unless I have missed it in the minutes) that the Committee was not made aware of an investigation commissioned and published by The European Union - "The Recasting of Copyright & Related Rights for the Knowledge Economy". This, like Gowers, investigated sound recording copyright extension and came to the same conclusions but expressed them in much stronger terms – indeed, this report made a good case for actually reducing the copyright term.

The full text of this report is, of course, readily available but for your convenience I have attached an excellent summary of it by David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society (which is also opposed to any extension of copyright) which will be published in the next issue of their magazine "Journal Into Melody".

I wasn’t sure from either your report, or the minutes, if the Gowers Review and, more importantly, the many submissions to it, were studied in depth by all of the committee. If they were, it should have been clear to anyone reading them carefully that virtually no one except the record industry supported a copyright extension and also that the arguments put forward by the industry were not only flimsy but, in some instances, dishonest.

I appreciate that the Committee’s report cannot now be changed but I am most concerned that MPs and others will read it and accept it without appreciating the damage to Britain’s culture that a copyright extension would bring about.

This concern was heightened when, just as I was preparing the final version of this letter I learned that, under the Ten Minute Rule, a Labour MP is planning to introduce a bill calling for an extension."

This bill received (and passed) its first reading on 8 May with virtually no prior warning to the public at large. The MP in question is Michael Connarty, who happens to be the MP for a constituency adjacent to Alan’s. However, when Alan asked if they could meet to discuss it, he declined on the grounds that Alan was not one of his constituents. In written replies to criticism of his stance he defended it on the grounds that "it is what the artists I know want". The second reading of the bill was scheduled for 29 June, but didn’t take place due to the fact that there was neither sufficient time nor enough MPs present to vote on it. It is currently listed in Hansard as both "not printed" and "lapsed" which hopefully means that it has died – at least for the time being.

But just as we were hoping that common sense might have finally prevailed, on 4 July a wannabe future prime minister, in other words Conservative leader, David Cameron, gets to his feet and makes a fool of himself. He said a future Conservative Government would bow to the record industry’s wishes and increase the sound copyright term to 70 years. The London Times reported:

"Addressing the British Phonographic Industry annual meeting, Mr Cameron said: ‘Most people think these are all multimillionaires living in some penthouse flat. The reality is that many of these are low-earning session musicians who will be losing a vital pension.’

Rejecting a report commissioned by Gordon Brown, which said that there was no case for extending copyright, Mr Cameron quoted research which found that the change could boost the music industry by £3.3 billion over the next 50 years.

He argued that extending the term would give an ‘incentive to the music industry to digitise both older and niche repertoire which more people can enjoy at no extra cost’."

The Times report on their internet website invited comments, and Messrs Bunting and Ades were quick to point out the weaknesses in Cameron’s position. Many other Times readers also added their opinions; no one supported Cameron’s stance on this matter. E-mails were sent to him at the House of Commons and, in response to messages received, David Cameron's office insultingly issued a standard reply which made no attempt whatsoever to answer any of the valid points raised.

Further potentially "bad news" is the fact that back in the new cabinet as Culture Minister is James Purnell who, when he previously occupied the post, was firmly committed to bowing to the BPI’s demands to extend copyright.

It should be emphasised that the RFS is not alone in opposing an increase in the sound copyright term from 50 to 70 years. The internet is buzzing with many other ‘freedom of speech’ organisations who take a similar view.

RFS member Terry Charlton recently sent us a cutting from the April 2007 issue of the American magazine "Jazz Times". Columnist Gary Giddins contributed a thoughtful piece on the problems facing the music industry in the USA, with regard to downloads from the internet and more pressing problems such as the sound copyright situation across the Atlantic. Giddins pointed out that the foreign-owned music giants in the USA have no interest in making the nation’s cultural heritage available. He concluded: "If Sony/BMG feels no obligation toward its archival history, the least it could do is open its vaults for fire-sale leasing. It’s undoubtedly too much to ask the Supreme Court to examine its foul copyright extensions. The fact that this Japanese-German holding company can insist that it continues to own 1923 classic American records, which it has no interest in marketing, is obscene."

We must not allow this situation to arise in Britain and Europe. We urge all RFS members and readers who agree that the sound opyright term should not be increased beyond the present 50 years to make their feelings known to their MPs. Write to them at House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA or send an e-mail direct to your MP: (name plus initial, such as)

Footnote Literally as this issue closed for press we were made aware of a new paper on the economically optimal term of copyright presented to a Berlin conference in July by Rufus Pollock, a PhD candidate in economics at Cambridge University. After extensive study he has come to the conclusion that, using a combination of new and existing data on recordings and books, the evidence strongly reveals that the optimal term is around fourteen years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright term and implies that existing copyright terms are too long. This should give the record industry, and some gullible politicians, a few things to think about!

This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007. Just before publication date the UK Government announced that it was not proposing to alter the current 50-year period for the copyright on sound recordings.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.