The European Parliament is currently preparing their response to the Commission proposal to extend the copyright of sound recordings from the current 50 year period to 95 years. This proposal has been put together at the request of big record labels and follows a similar extension in the US.
This proposal is problematic to say the least. From research point of view, and based on the US experience, the main result will be a serious limitation of availability of recorded music – musicians would not benefit from this.
Most of the records we are talking about here are classical music. The only way to get access to that material would be for the copyright holder to reissue old recordings, but record companies are lazy to do that because it isn’t good business. We can read out-of-copyright books online for free, but accessing out-of-copyright music is difficult enough already – now the companies who are mostly just sitting on their huge back catalogues want to restrict access to them for 45 more years.
This is why many experts of intellectual property, copyright, and recorded music have voiced their critique and opposition of the plans. For instance, professor Nicholas Cook (former leader of Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, and the new chair of music of the University of Cambridge has often spoken against this move. Also, independent reviews and meticulous studies have shown the flaws in these plans and concluded that the extension would be a bad move. Only the study by the business consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by the British Phonographic Industry (i.e. the record labels) came to a different conclusion. Unsurprisingly, as these big labels would be the only ones even possibly benefiting for this. They reached this conclusion based on 129 selected cases (recordings), and summarily generalised their findings to 45 years of combined recording output of a continent. (At least they admit to doing this.)
After looking into the documents, reports and websites, it is easy for me to side with the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property, Competition and Tax Law, who in their report (pdf) famously concluded that the “analysis of the Commission’s proposal shows that the prolongation of the term of protection cannot be justified from any point of view.”
And that’s also why I signed this petition.
To learn more about this, I suggest you first read the message from CHARM website, and follow the links. I can recommend this (pdf) for a quick briefing of what this is about. Pekka Gronow has written about this as well.
Musicians, record labels, producers etc. should get their reward for creating their works. Users should pay for their music, be it recorded or live, analoque or digital. Piracy isn’t a solution. But neither is putting all music behind a lock and key, and leaving it there. It has to be said that this issue of extending the copyright for recorded music is quite separate from the debate about online music, DRM and for instance the scandalous punishment of web radios in the US, but it is a part of the same problem, which is that the record labels are outdated and greedy dinosaurs who are on a rampage to kill all innovation by trying to protect their old business models rather than developing new ones that would suit the current media landscape, their artists’ and customers’ needs.
For instance, the MPI statement says that music makers would benefit much more if the utilization of the copyrights would be improved during the current 50 year period, rather than by extending the period to 95 years. This is very clear, who is going to be around to collect royalties 95 years after making the record? The record companies, and perhaps Jordi, if he lives to be 100. And Mick Jagger, of course.
The inflexibility of RIAA and other organisations who represent the copyright holders has led to restrictions, control, and solutions, which are frankly insane: the legal product is inferior to the one downloaded illegally, as the legal song comes with DRM that means I can’t freely copy it to my mp3 player and that my music collection will die if I upgrade my laptop two more times. The record companies are wasting their artists’ money on their “fight against piracy”, and driving many former paying customers to the convenient and better quality world of illegal downloads. Innovation on the field, such as the Nokia “Comes with Music” -system, is too slow. The problem isn’t in the technology, users or content, it’s in the copyright holders and their lack of vision. Will the dinosaurs be able to adapt to the new environment or will they die? My prediction is that we will find out in 5-10 years.