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EU proposes to allow artists to collect royalties for 95 years

15.02.08 @ 09:29

  1. By Leigh Phillips

Singers and musicians could almost double the period during which they can collect royalty fees, following an announcement by the European Commission on Thursday (14 February) that it intends to introduce proposals on the extension of copyright protection for performing artists.

  • Commissioner Charlie McCreevy hopes to extend the term of sound recording from 50 to 95 years (Photo: EUobserver.com)

Internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy said he hopes to introduce a proposal to extend the term of sound recording from 50 to 95 years.

"I have not seen a convincing reason why a composer of music should benefit from a term of copyright which extends to the composer's life and 70 years beyond," said the commissioner, "while the performer should only enjoy 50 years, often not even covering his lifetime."

"It is the performer who gives life to the composition and while most of us have no idea who wrote our favourite song – we can usually name the performer."

A number of prominent singers and musicians have long campaigned for an extension of the length of copyright protection for their performances.

The commissioner said he was mainly concerned about royalties as "pensions" for the thousands of unrecognised performers such as session musicians rather than increasing the already substantial wealth of the big pop stars.

"I am not talking about featured artists like Cliff Richard or Charles Aznavour. I am talking about the thousands of anonymous session musicians who contributed to sound recordings in the late fifties and sixties," said Mr McCreevy. "They will no longer get airplay royalties from their recordings. But these royalties are often their sole pension."

In making the announcement, the commission drew attention to singers and musicians from the birth of rock and roll, many of whom are now approaching retirement age.

A commission survey shows that many European performers or singers start their career in their early 20's. Session musicians, who are not a member of a band, often start performing when they are 17.

But once copyright protection for sound recordings has ended, performers no longer receive any income from their sound recordings.

For session musicians, the record companies will set up a fund reserving at least 20 percent of the income during the extended term to them. For featured artists, original advances may no longer be set off against royalties in the extended term, which means the artist would get all the royalties during the extended term.

The commissioner also intends to propose a "use it or lose it" provision. In the case where a record company is unwilling to re-release a performance during the extended term, the performer can move to another label.

Copyright levies

On the same day that the commission announced its intention to boost artists incomes from royalties, it also said it would have another look at the levies applied to blank compact discs, cassettes, hard drives, printers and other equipment used to copy artists' works.

Commissioner McCreevy said that he would be reviving a consultation on private copying levies.

Currently, copying levies applied to such items vary widely across the EU, with the levy on an iPod ranging from €20 in France to €80 in Spain, and nothing at all in the UK.

The move revisits the issue of copying levy reform after a related proposal from Mr McCreevy was dropped following strong opposition from musicians and the French government.

"There can be no question of calling into doubt the entitlement of rightsholders to compensation for private copying," said the commissioner. "At the same time there is a need to look at how the levies are applied in practice."

The electronics industry, meanwhile, welcomed the move.

Mark MacGann, the director general of the EICTA, the organisation that represents the information technology and consumer electronics industries in Europe, said: "Industry is not advocating for private copy levies to be abolished, but has repeatedly demonstrated that the current system of 'rough justice' is opaque, unfair to consumers and industry, and does not fulfil the stated purpose of fairly remunerating right holders".

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