EU Extension Of Copyright Term For Sound Recordings

Author:Mr Ed Baden-Powell
Profession:Michael Simkins LLP

"That's All Right"?

Many classic sound recordings from the '50s are now in the

public domain in Europe. Take Elvis' seminal single,

"That's All Right" – widely credited as the

birth of rock 'n' roll – which entered the public

domain in 2005.

That is all right by some, but not by the record industry

– labels and artists alike. As EU law stands, evergreen

hits of the early '60s (such as the Beatles catalogue) will

soon lose copyright protection. The copyright term for sound

recordings lasts only 50 years in EU member states, compared with

95 years in the US.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water"

This could all change, however, with a proposed extension of the

copyright term for sound recordings from 50 years to 70 years. This

was approved by the European Parliament on 23 April 2009.

The 70-year period would run from the date of first release (if

the release occurs within 50 years of the date of recording). The

extension would equally apply to performers' rights in their

performances embodied in the recording, enabling them to continue

to receive income from the performers' collecting


While this falls short of the 95 years originally proposed by

the European Commission (and leaves European labels at a

competitive disadvantage when compared with US labels), it may

prove to be an acceptable compromise for EU member states, which

have so far largely resisted any extension.

If the extension becomes law, it would have prospective and

retrospective effect. For existing copyrights, however, it would

only apply to sound recordings that are less than 50 years old as

at the new law's date of force at national level –

i.e. no copyrights would be "revived" under the proposed

legislation. Nonetheless, the new lease of life for those masters

that are then still in copyright will be welcome to the labels,

artists and industry organisations that have lobbied so hard over

the past few years to achieve this result.

Your Time Hasn't Come Yet, Baby

But the extension has yet to become law, and may fail at the

next hurdle.

The European Parliament voted in favour of amending the

Copyright Term Directive (2006/116/EC) to give effect to the

extension, but the European Commission's draft amending

Directive (as amended during debate by the European Parliament)

still needs to be considered by the EU Council of Ministers. The

Council consists of ministers from each EU member state. There is a

complex weighted voting system, but the new law would need to be

passed by...

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