'Cliff's law' gives ageing rockers a pension after copyright ruling

Composers have copyright over their music until 70 years after their deaths, but for artists who made their names with songs written by others it runs out after 50 years

A ruling by the EU is expected to enable veteran crooners to receive royalties for their songs well into their retirements, as copyright for music is extended from 50 years to 70 years.

Lawmakers are set to ratify new regulations after a long-running campaign by record companies and artists eager to secure royalty revenues before the 50-year copyright expires on hits from the Sixties – often called the golden age of rock and pop.

Known as "Cliff Richard's law", the new ruling would affect thousands of artists from little-known session musicians to world-famous performers such as Dame Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones.

EU regulators backed the directive this week and the Council of Ministers is expected to make it law on 12 September 2011, when details are expected to be made public.

Musicians and record producers welcomed the news yesterday. "It's extremely good news," Roger Daltrey, of The Who, said. "Musicians need to be paid. There are thousands of small musicians whose independence relies on the little bit of royalty, for work they did in the 1960s, they get by way of a pension."

Though it has been welcomed by major record labels and big-name acts, there were concerns within the industry that the directive would be insufficient to recognise that royalties were owed to many uncredited backing and session musicians, .

The Musicians Union declined to comment on the ruling until it became law.

The move would come as a welcome reprieve for the music industry, which is struggling to cope with the growing popularity of free online music. Sales of CDs continued a steady decline last year: they were down 12.4 per cent, to 98.5 million units sold. In the same year, BPI, the record industry trade association, predicted that 1.2 billion songs had been illegally downloaded.

Pete Waterman, the record producer behind songs by artists such as Cliff Richard and Kylie Minogue, said that he had been campaigning for a change to the copyright law for 20 years.

"If people aren't being paid for making music then they won't make music," he said.

The new law would apply to performers. Composers already have copyright over their music until 70 years after their deaths, so while the likes of The Who and The Beatles, who wrote their own songs, were already safe from copyright expiry, artists who made their names with songs written by others, such as Sir Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, were threatened with a steady decline in their earnings.

Dame Shirley Bassey told The Independent: "So many of my songs would soon be out of copyright under the old rules."

"It's good news for performers of all kinds, from session musicians to great singers. Unlike diamonds, copyright is not forever, but I'm happy it will last a little bit longer," she added.

Music to their ears: The songs likely to be affected

Cliff Richard, 'Living Doll'

Originally released in 1959, when it topped the charts, before getting a second outing in 1986 (as a comic collaboration with the Young Ones for Comic Relief) Sir Cliff's hit, written by Lionel Bart, has passed the 50-year copyright limit. But an extension to 70 years raises the prospect of a third release. Has Sir Cliff got it in him?

The Supremes, 'Meet the Supremes'

The debut album by the Motown trio, above, which was more successful in the UK than in America, was released in 1962. Produced by the legendary Smokey Robinson it features the 'scandalous' "Buttered Popcorn" track and their first US chart hit "Your Heart Belongs to Me".

Shirley Bassey, 'Let's Face the Music'

The copyright for this 1963 album, which spent five weeks in the charts, is on the brink of expiry.

The Monkees, 'I'm a Believer'

The Monkees, left, laid a handy nest-egg with their 1966 Neil Diamond classic. The single is one of fewer than 30 to have sold 10million copies worldwide. Now that's a lot of royalties.

Will Coldwell

What the stars think...

Roger Daltrey, 67

It's extremely good news. I don't know why there was any argument that this shouldn't be done. The only people who would benefit from it not going through would be bootleggers. Musicians need to be paid. There's tens of thousands of small musicians whose independence relies on the little bit of royalty they get by way of a pension. That would stop happening without the copyright being extended. I try to avoid getting anything for free off the internet. I hate it, knowing the work that goes into it that isn't paid for. I can afford to. But that's not the issue, it's piracy. It's the little guys that would have been hurt. I can't see who would gain from copyright running out.

Rick Wakeman, 62

It's always a good thing when people are benefiting from work that they've done. Many session musicians in their 70s and 80s are getting £100 cheques at the end of the month for things they performed for albums in the 1960s. We don't want that to stop. I used to sit on the board that represents musicians. Pamra represented recording artists big and small, and that money meant a lot to some of these guys who live off royalties from their old work.

Shirley Bassey, 74

This is very favourable news for the music industry. So many of my songs would soon be out of copyright under the old rules. It's good news for performers of all kinds, from session musicians to great singers. Unlike diamonds, copyright is not forever, but I'm happy it will last a little bit longer.

Pete Waterman, 64

It's excellent news but it doesn't stop the problems of piracy and people that don't pay copyrights, but it does mean that people aren't going to have to worry about their children's income.

The thing that everybody forgets about this is that it's not a law that works for Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Cliff Richard and Simon Cowell. It works for everybody. Most musicians, session musicians, are lucky if they get £20 a week out of their copyright. It still hasn't addressed the problem of the pay we get – or don't get – from the internet. Everybody has this view that it's free, but it's not. You pay for the internet through your phone line and provider – they get paid when people use the internet to download music, but the artists making music don't. We've been campaigning for this for about 20 years.

Comments