[Originally posted at pirateparty.org.uk in April 2011]
Once again a move to extend copyright is making its way through the European Parliament. The move to extend the copyright on sound recordings (and other “neighbouring rights”) began in April 2009 when, under intense pressure from the music publishing lobby, the European Parliament agreed to increase the duration of this copyright from 50 years to 70 years (compromising on the Commission’s and lobbyists’ demand of 95 years). However, before this could be implemented, elections were called and a new Parliament was voted in, including one member from the Pirate movement. Now, nearly two years later, this process has been resurrected following a change of heart within the Danish government.
This time, however, we have a chance of fighting back. A campaign to challenge this extension (or at least demand that it be debated by the new Parliament) has been started by Christian Engström from within the European Parliament. All he needs to open this issue up is 40 or more signatures from MEPs. There are currently 72 UK MEPs, so we can make a difference here.
What you need to do
Please write to or email your MEPs now, asking them to support this campaign. They can do this by getting in touch with Mr Engström (of the “Greens – European Free Alliance” group; the same group as our Green party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru) and adding their signature to his “request for renewed referral.” There is a good chance that enough signatures will be achieved soon (if they have not already been), but this is only the beginning of the campaign. If this succeeds, there will be a full parliamentary vote (probably in May) so it is important to start getting your MEPs to think about this issue now.
Why Copyright Extension is Bad for Everyone
It is likely that the copyright lobby is already working on MEPs to convince them that copyright needs to be extended – however, it is very easy to argue against as there is a wealth of academic and other evidence against extension. A good place to start for convincing UK MEPs is the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property conducted in 2006 (at the request of the government). This review analysed the arguments for extending copyright (many presented by the BPI) and demolished them one by one. In the full report it concluded that the European Commission should keep copyright duration for sound recordings at 50 years (Recommendation 3).
In discussing this issue, the report highlighted (in paragraphs 4.20 to 4.47) that “it is not clear that extension of term would benefit musicians and performers very much in practice”, that “if the exclusive right granted by copyright … lasts longer than it needs to, unnecessary costs will be imposed on consumers” and that “economic evidence indicates that the length of protection for copyright works already far exceeds the incentives required to invest in new works.” The review noted evidence to suggest that the net cost to consumers of extension would be between £240 million and £480 million (more than the suggested “benefits” of the Digital Economy Act) and would only result in an increase of revenues of less than 2%, with the distribution of this benefit being “highly skewed, with most income going to the relatively small number of highly successful artists.”
Hindering Investment and Locking Away Our Culture
A 40% increase in the duration of copyright is entirely arbitrary and will only encourage those with large copyright libraries to continue to rely on them rather than investing in new works. Music recordings are now easier to produce and distribute than ever before, so under that logic copyright should be getting shorter, not longer. In any case, it seems unlikely that recording artists will suddenly get a 40% pay rise overnight. There have already been suggestions that some of the major record labels are far more interested in their back catalogues than promoting new music, and a copyright extension will only encourage this.
One only has to look through a list of the music groups from the 1960s (whose works will otherwise be falling out of copyright soon) to see why companies such as EMI are so interested in extending copyright. But not only will this proposed extension keep works such as these in copyright for an extra 20 years, it will apply retroactively to recordings from the 40s and 50s already in the public domain. It is bad enough to keep significant parts of our culture locked away for even longer, but it is ridiculous to snatch away parts of our musical heritage from the public.
There is a very real chance that we can stop this extension, but please email your MEPs now to make them aware of this issue. Halting the extension of copyright may not seem like a much but it is the first step in reforming copyright and returning it to a sensible form.