That ain't all right, Mama: uproar on copyright

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The Independent Online

Record companies and artists have hit out at the European Commission for allowing the exclusive copyright on Elvis Presley's first hits - owned by Sony-BMG - to expire this month.

Record companies and artists have hit out at the European Commission for allowing the exclusive copyright on Elvis Presley's first hits - owned by Sony-BMG - to expire this month.

This means that anyone can legally reproduce these songs, including "That's All Right Mama", provided they pay for their publishing rights. The original owner of a recording's copyright, the performer or his estate do not receive anything.

Existing copyrights on recorded music in Europe expire 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording was made. This means that the copyright for Elvis's 1954 songs ran out this month. More importantly for the European record industry's back catalogue sales, the copyrights for massive-selling groups like The Beatles and Cliff Richard & The Shadows are due to begin expiring within a few years.

This month, Sony-BMG re-released many of Elvis's hits to coincide with what would have been his 70th birthday, but also to make the most of its copyright ownership before it expires.

In the US, after a protest led by singer Sonny Bono, copyright expiry for recorded music was extended to 95 years. The recording industry is lobbying the EC to follow suit.

A spokeswoman for EMI said: "A 45-year differential makes no sense in a global marketplace. Neither does the fact that recordings are given a shorter term of protection than films in Europe; why should Frank Sinatra's records get so much less protection than his films?"

Bruce Welch, guitarist with The Shadows, added: "It's scary, especially for the artists who are less fortunate than ourselves."

Richard Constant, general counsel at Universal Music International, downplayed the financial impact: "We are recording new artists' works all the time."

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