EU Extension of Copyright Protection for Sound Recordings: a Blessing or Blunder?

Posted on Sep 15, 2011

EU Extension of Copyright Protection for Sound Recordings: a Blessing or Blunder?

This week the EU extended copyright protection for performers and record producers from 50 to 70 years.

The EU Council’s justification for the extension – performers often start their careers young, and the current 50-year term means that many are not protected for their entire lifetimes and may be cut off from sources of income at the stage they need it the most.

Not everybody is jumping for joy. Intellectual Property Watch reports that eight EU member states (notably Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden) voted against the extension. The Open Rights Group (ORG) do not mince words and label the extension “a cultural disaster”. They state that research showed that around 90% of the cash windfall from copyright levies will fall into the hands of record labels. “Despite the rhetoric, small artists will gain very little from this, while our cultural heritage takes a massive blow by denying us full access to these recordings for another generation”.

“a cultural disaster”

A significant number of responses generated by the copyright extension appear to view it as bad for innovation and as simply adding wealth to the coffers of the big record labels.

Interestingly, Ars Technica mentions that the European Commission at the outset (some years ago) said that no external expertise on the proposed extension was required. (incidentally, a prominent European academic who concluded that the copyright extension was a bad idea for society as a whole, was furious that his work—which the European Commission requested and paid for—was totally ignored).

“no external expertise on the proposed extension was required”

It appears that the EU has something in common with the South African government – a resistance to intellectual property expertise.

The 27 EU member states have two years to incorporate the new provisions into their national laws.

South Africa

Should South Africa follow suit? We think not – the extended term grants excessive protection. The current rule of thumb for the term of copyright protection is fifty years. The Berne Convention, the international treaty governing international copyright, sets fifty years as the bench mark for the term of protection.

Business interests in the USA have managed to persuade the American Government to extend this period to seventy years and many countries around the world have followed this example. Now the EU are following suit for records. A groundswell has been created. However, we, in South Africa, are under no obligation to increase the period of protection, but should we buck the trend?

We will probably come under pressure from the business moguls and the developed countries to do so, but should we succumb? At a time when the very principle and existence of copyright is being questioned, particularly in developing countries, it seems to be unduly provocative and inopportune to consider lengthening the term of protection. In this instance it is felt that we should be conservative. This issue should be left well alone.

“unduly provocative and inopportune to consider lengthening the term of protection”

Fifty years remains a long period, particularly in the electronic age when things become obsolete in a short period of time. Consider the economic life of the average computer program. Is a monopoly of fifty years not sufficient? In most modern environments fifty years is considered to be an epoch. Let it be.