"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
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