Record companies are calling on the Government to nearly double the period of copyright protection accorded to music tracks.
The BPI, which represents record companies, will tell a review into intellectual property rights commissioned by the Treasury that copyright protection in this country must be extended to 95 years, the level enjoyed by American music recordings. In the UK and the rest of Europe, music recordings have 50 years' protection.
The disparity will soon begin affecting some of Britain's best-known music acts, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. EMI, the London-listed music company, owns the rights to much of the Beatles back catalogue. As the Beatles started producing hits in 1962, with "Love Me Do", the group's copyright will start to run out from 2012.
By contrast, composers of the music, like authors of books, have copyright for their lifetime plus another 70 years. Submissions to the review, which is headed by the former Financial Times editor Andrews Gowers, have to be in by the end of next week.
Steve Redmond at the BPI said record companies use the earnings from their back catalogues to finance new talent. "This is a risky business. Nine out of 10 music releases fail. Revenues generated by artists like the Beatles pay for the up-and-coming acts of today."
Singers such as Sir Cliff Richard have complained that once songs are out of copyright, they have no control about how the recordings are used - for instance, for promoting products.
Mr Redmond said: "We operate in a pop music world in which the US is dominant. The UK provides the only credible competition to the US. So why should we be hampered by protection of just 50 years? And who's to say that the recording is worth less [protection] than the composition."
The length of copyright protection in this country falls under European law. So to accede to the record companies, the British Government would have to take the case to Brussels.
New Labour has shown itself to be particularly enamoured of the "creative industries" so the plea from the record companies may be well received by the Treasury. However, Mr Gowers has shown himself to be keen on the new digital technologies, which have often challenged traditional copyright rules.
Kay Withers, a research fellow at the IPPR, the think-tank, said: "Our major asset in the UK is intellectual property. In order to maintain and grow that, we need to focus on the creative industries." Government figures show creative industries provide 8 per cent of the "gross value added" to the UK economy.Reuse content