The Rambler :: blog

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Say no to extending copyright in recordings 

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This is important, y'all.

There is serious talk here in the UK of extending the copyright on sound recordings from the present 50 years to a much longer period - maybe as much as 95 years. The EU, bless them, have already rejected the idea (yay!), but that doesn't look to be enough to stop the big BPI firms continuing to campaign for tighter control over their Beatles' recordings, and there is concern that they might get their way still (boo!). This is bad news for so many reasons that I've covered before (making a further mockery of what copyright was invented for in the first place included); but one that is significant to classical music is that it could well spell the end of the historical reissues industry (already under fire as it is). Such an industry doesn't really exist in the USA, where longer copyright terms have prevented it from developing, but in the UK we're world leaders, opening up large areas of previously neglected or unavailable music up for public enjoyment and academic research: institutions from Naxos to the Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music (see their giant collection of historical Schubert song recordings online for a taste of how great this is) will be seriously affected.

In determining what the government decides on this, public response will be important, and anyone interested in music should be wary about extending copyright again, moving IP closer and closer to the principles of physical property law. If you want to have your say, please consider writing to James Purnell MP, Minister for Cultural Industries [website | out-of-date campaign blog | contact details | blogged before] and/or your own MP (through WriteToThem.com (was FaxYourMP.com)).

A suggested form letter, as written by Nicholas Cook and offered for distribution and/or guidance follows:

I am writing about the suggestion recently reported in the press that copyright on sound recordings may be extended from 50 years to 90 or 95, in response to pressure from major record companies concerned that highly commercial rock recordings from the 1960s will soon enter the public domain.

For other music, particularly classical music, such an extension could be a disaster. One of the major developments of the last 10-20 years has been renewed interest in early recordings and performance styles. The major record companies, whose business models are based on high unit sales, have shown little interest in reissuing their ex-copyright back lists. Instead, small specialist companies such as Naxos, Nimbus, and Pearl have taken the lead, and in doing so have created a new industry in which the UK is a world leader. They have created a new market of listeners and invigorated the classical tradition, bringing to life a cultural heritage that would otherwise be gathering dust in the archives. Moreover the study of early recordings has changed the way music is taught and studied at schools and universities, as demonstrated by new, high-profile initiatives such as CHARM (the AHRC-funded Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music).

All this flourishing activity could be brought to a halt by the proposed copyright extension. I hope you will press for the retention of the current 50-year copyright term, which is a sensible compromise between encouraging creative industry on the one hand and ensuring public access to our musical heritage on the other.

Yours sincerely,

I'm sending mine now - you should too.

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