Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Copyright/wrong 4

I recently wrote to my MEPs, asking them to vote the copyright extension term down. I have since heard back from my Conservative MEP, Martin Callanan. What he had to say is reproduced below. This came after he wrote me back on a completely different issue that I didn't raise with him - not exactly confidence inspiring:
Thank you for your email regarding the proposals for the copyright term extension directive.

Issues surrounding copyright extension and the level of copyright are controversial and are matters that have been of importance to policymakers over the last decade. The Conservatives in the European Parliament have actively followed and been involved in the debate and are of the opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their money and invest in
the future.

We need a copyright framework that is flexible, accessible and fair. The Commission proposal (as modified by the Parliament) is not perfect, but it does meet many of these requirements. In the digital age, music is readily available online and copyright provisions need to take account of market changes. Extending the term of copyright is important if we expect performers and the music industry to carry on investing,
innovating and creating and it is only right that they are given greater protection for their investments.

Countries such as the USA and India have already instituted terms of copyright for 95 years and in the interests of competitiveness the Conservatives feel that it is important to support an extension. At a time when creative industries based on intellectual property are generating an increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, the current disparity between the terms of protection clearly puts British record
companies and performers at a competitive disadvantage.

I supported the compromise proposal that would give artists a 70 year term of copyright protection which was successfully passed in Strasbourg. This will bring a greater level of uniformity to those involved in the music industry but also recognises concerns that lengthening the term of copyright to 95 years was for too long a period.
The proposal also recognises the longer life expectancy of artists.

The extended term will have a positive impact on consumer choice and cultural diversity. This extension will benefit cultural diversity by ensuring the availability of resources to fund and develop new talent. In the short to medium-term, a term extension will provide record companies with an incentive to digitise and market their back catalogue of old recordings. It is already clear that internet distribution offers unique opportunities to market an unprecedented quantity of sound recordings.

The UK has a very strong music industry and safeguards must be put in place if we are to maintain our position in today's marketplace. The copyright extension is the first step in this direction.
I'm not convinced by the argument that extending the copyright term will encourage record companies to digitise older content. Surely, if there was market demand for music from the 1950-1960s then that material would have already been digitised? After all, the push for digitising music has been one which has spanned three decades now. Any content from that era that has not been digitised by the record companies is unlikely to be commercially significant for them to do so now. If it hasn't sold significantly in the last 50 years, why would it do so for the next 20? Plenty material from that era does already exist, especially the stuff that is well known like Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Eddie Cochrane, etc. But what about the music from that period which isn't commercially viable yet could have been released into the public domain to enrich culture and feature in contemporary mash-up/remix projects?

I'm also unconvinced by the claim that the USA and India have already extended the terms of copyright, therefore it is implicit that we do so too. Where America leads, we follow? I seem to recall being led to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction... I'm not sure that there are many British record companies from the 1940s or 1950s that are currently still around. I was under the impression that the big four major labels of the present era were global entities.

I take the point that artists are living longer, but I'm not convinced that the length of time someone should be remunerated for their work is something which extends to 50 yeas never mind 70. You can't even get a builder to guarantee your house will be around for half that length of time! Why should Cliff Richard be rewarded for something he did 50 years ago? Has he not learned new skills or saved for his pension like most people have to do?

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