I have just written to my MP about the government's plans to double the length of music copyright terms:
Dear Frank Dobson,
I recently read with some alarm that the government plans to extend the length of copyrights for recorded music from 50 to 100 years.
Copyright has traditionally been a trade-off; a temporary monopoly given to encourage authors. Such radical extensions of copyright shift the concept towards being an absolute property title. They impoverish the many for the enrichment of a few. Culture as a whole is impoverished, as works deemed unprofitable are buried in corporate vaults, and are illegal to disseminate.
The rationale offered by James Purnell, the minister for Creative Industries, that copyright extension will provide more money for recording companies to invest in new artists is flawed. Recording companies are private businesses, operating primarily for the benefit of their shareholders, rather than charities working for artists. The recording industry has a long history of exploiting artists and consumers alike in variously unethical ways. Additionally, copyright is traditionally a bargain with the public, rather than an absolute property title. As such, this copyright extension is a case of taking from the public to enrich private interests, and will primarily help not artists or the public but a small minority of shareholders.
We have seen, throughout the world, a spate of such extensions and expansions of copyright law, from its traditional, limited scope into a virtually perpetual property title, and consequently a feudalisation of culture. As a consequence, the public domain and free culture is becoming an anachronism, cutting off somewhere in the first half of the 20th century. This transformation of popular culture into private property has grave consequences for us all.
There is a lot of pressure from multinational corporate concerns to pass this outrageous extension of copyright laws. I pray that you will take up my concerns in Parliament, and stand up for public culture and against this power grab.
I'm not sure if this is anything more than a rumour. I'm sure I would have heard something about it at work otherwise.
They also don't make the distinction between mechanical and performing rights in that article. It's the mechanical right that they're talking of extending, the actual recordings rather than the performance right that generates a royalty every time the song is played in public. The former is currently 50 years from date of recording and the latter lasts 70 years after the last composer DIES. E.g. Although Lennon died in 1980 his estate will still collect royalties everytime "let it be" gets played until 70 years after whoever out of Macca/Ringo is the last to die, dies.
Performing rights benefit the songwriter without question. Mechanical rights go straight into the record company/publisher's pocket. In my record contract I immediately signed away any rights to the mechanical copyright for our single. I think this is a much more pressing point - I have to say I didn't understand a word of your penultimate paragraph... :-)
Life of the creator + 70 years seems to be becoming the de facto international standard for all sorts of copyright. Following the signing of the (so called) "Free" Trade Agreement with the US, Australian copyright laws that are currently at 50 years will be moving to life+70 in the near future.
100? I can't see it.
The "standard" is just an interim position to the goal: perpetual copyright as a first-class property title. The most powerful interests are corporations whose wealth is in "intellectual property", a concept which they are pushing aggressively to expand.
100-year copyrights in the UK would give the rest of McWorld something to harmonise up to, and provide justification for the next wave of copyright-extension bills.