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Ageing rockers may lose copyright protection

Plans to almost double copyright protection for recording artists were challenged by the Government this afternoon.

The European Commission said musicians and performers should enjoy copyright safeguards for 95 years - instead of losing the rights to their own works after the current copyright expiry limit of 50 years.

But a UK spokesman said the Government was "not convinced" of the economic argument for the move.

The proposals come in a European Commission "consultation paper" unveiled in Brussels by Single Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy.

He said it was time copyright terms for performers fell in line with those for authors, adding: "I am committed to concentrate all necessary efforts to ensure that performers have a decent income and that there will be a European-based music industry in the years to come," he declared.

But any extension of the 50-year copyright period has already been rejected in the UK after a review ordered by the then Chancellor Gordon Brown said the case for an extension was "weak".

That conclusion was attacked at the time by major recording stars including Who singer Roger Daltrey and veteran hitmaker Sir Cliff Richard, who said they were speaking up for thousands of artists who provided entertainment but did not earn fortunes which could see them into old age.

Today Mr McCreevy said improved copyright protection would signal that Europe values the creative contribution of both performers and record producers.

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

That means that when the current 50-year protection ends, they will be in their 70s, with the potential to live well into their 80s or 90s.

For session musicians and lesser-known artists that means that income stops when performers are at the most vulnerable retirement period of their lives.

The UK Government spokesman said the proposal reflected the importance attached to intellectual property and raised "interesting questions" about where the proper balance lay between access to copyright-protected material and rewarding the producers of it.

But the spokesman went on: "We will need to consider all the issues raised here very carefully and ensure we participate fully in any debate about a new way ahead.

"The Government is currently not convinced that there is an economic case for extending the copyright term for performers.

"We would need to be convinced of real benefits before supporting the extension of any intellectual property right in this area, particularly that it is truly the performers who will benefit rather than the record labels."