Ministers to consider copyright extension

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The Independent Culture

Singers and musicians could keep earning from their songs for longer, after a Cabinet minister indicated the Government is considering extending copyright on sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.

Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said there was a "moral case" for performers - many of whom make their best work in their 20s and 30s - continuing to benefit from their work throughout their lifetimes.

The Government had previously resisted a campaign for copyright extension headed by veteran rocker Sir Cliff Richard, whose early hits from the 1950s are now losing their protection.

But ministers have come under increasing pressure over the issue this year, after EU Internal Markets commissioner Charlie McCreevy set out proposals for a Europe-wide 95-year copyright period.

Today's announcement appears to reflect a shift in Government thinking, which Mr Burnham suggested was shared by Innovation Secretary John Denham.

A change in the copyright arrangements would allow long-lasting artists like Sir Cliff to carry on earning from performances recorded more than half a century ago, as well as to retain control over their use in adverts.

And it would be a boost for hard-pressed record companies who otherwise face seeing some of their most lucrative properties, such as the early 1960s hits of the Beatles and Rolling Stones, fall into the public domain within five years.

Speaking to the UK Music Creators' Conference in London, Mr Burnham said: "Copyright underpins the music business - and all our creative industries - and the right response when it's put under pressure is not to abandon a system as outdated, but to make it work better.

"There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime.

"That is why I have been working with John Denham, my opposite number in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, to consider the arguments for an extension of copyright term for performers from the current 50 years.

"An extension to match more closely a performer's expected lifetime, perhaps something like 70 years, for example, given that most people make their best work in their 20s and 30s."

Mr Burnham said that any extension should be designed to deliver "maximum benefit to performers and musicians".

And he added: "It's only right that someone who created or contributed to something of real value gets to benefit for the full course of their life.

"There's another moral argument that says you should have a right not to have something you've created being associated with a cause or a brand you're not comfortable with."

He called on the music industry to develop practical proposals for an extension to copyright which would "directly and predominantly benefit performers - both session and featured musicians".

Geoff Taylor, the chief executive of the British Phonographic Industry, said: "Copyright is the lifeblood of our creative economy and we are delighted that the Government is recognising this by supporting an extension of copyright term for British musicians and labels.

"Copyright stimulates investment in musical talent and encourages innovation. Thousands of recording artists, hundreds of music companies and all British music fans will benefit from a fairer copyright term."

Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart, a former member of rock bands Runrig and Big Country who has tabled a Private Members' Bill for copyright extension, welcomed Mr Burnham's comments.

Mr Wishart said: "This is good news for musicians and will end the appalling situation where musicians will lose income from their recordings in their old age.

"All other creators and artists secure a lifetime of royalties and it is only right and proper that this unique discrimination against musicians comes to an end."