Copyright: The Law Has Changed

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As most musicians will already know, if you write a piece of music then you own the copyright to it. In short it means nobody can copy it without permission, until 70 years after the composer’s death. BUT did you know that this isn’t the same for recordings?

Actually a recording is only copyright protected for 50 years after being made, which is nothing like as long as the composer’s copyright.

That is, until now…

This week, the EU council have finally agreed to extend this period from 50 to 70 years after the recording has been made.

This will be very welcome news to the surviving members of The Beatles, who’s first recordings (including ‘Love Me Do’) were due to come out of copyright in 2012 but now they will enjoy another twenty years of royalties!

So why has it changed?

A hundred years ago music was circulated by ear and printed on sheet music, whereas today we don’t seem to consider a pop song to exist as music until we hear a recording of it. The change in copyright reflects the change in the industry, giving recordings more protection. The change is mostly thanks to the artists like Cliff Richard who have been campaigning for years to introduce the change.

Who does it benefit?

The main idea is to make it fairer on the musicians, and to support artists who rely on royalties from their success earlier in life. Significantly, the change also includes a clause which will allow performers to renegotiate their existing contracts with record labels at the end of 50 years.

What are the downsides?

Many critics are saying that it will encourage musicians to live off a short burst of fame rather than writing and recording new music. It looks like the majority of the money will go to huge record labels, and won’t benefit session musicians and less well known artists at all. They also say that it will mean recordings that were likely to be re-vitalised when they came out of copyright will never resurface and will be lost for ever.

What do you think?

  • Will many artists actually see any more money, or just the ‘ageing rock dinosaurs’?
  • Should the copyright period have been reduced instead to encourage artists to create new music?
  • Will the music suffer at all, or will we not even notice the difference?
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