Nicholas Lezard: The problem for rockers who don't die before they grow old

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The Independent Online

Good news for ageing rockers and pop stars as the law is being changed so that their compositions remain in copyright for 70 years, rather than 50, which was hitherto considered sufficient.

This is known as "Cliff's Law", as it becomes ever clearer that Cliff Richard is going to be hanging around for some time yet, and he hasn't earned a penny from "Living Doll" for two years now, an outrage which cries to heaven. He will now be coining it from this timeless classic for another 18 years, and industry insiders have raised the ghastly spectre of a re-release.

I am generally all in favour of musicians being paid for the work they've done (although writers have it even cushier: they don't even have to be alive to keep raking it in), on the reasonable grounds that those who have not had the simple good manners to die on the job should still be allowed to relax after a bit.

But then I read the record producer Pete Waterman's reaction to the news: "If people aren't being paid for making music then they won't make music," which some might have said was a good reason to keep Pete Waterman, whose crimes against music since the mid-1980s are too numerous to list here, out of the business.

Not that the spoils will be shared out equally among the deserving. Musicians can still be humiliated by lack of recognition or dodgy contracts whose terms are still weighted strongly against them. One need look no further than John Lydon, formerly Rotten, who might have almost single-handedly changed the course of popular music three and a half decades ago (don't worry, it changed back again), but has since been reduced to advertising butter, a career move that has depressed and confused everyone who ever stuck a safety pin in the lapel of their school blazer to show their disaffection with the status quo. Or with Status Quo. (My God, how they and their descendants will welcome this news.)

Of course, the biggest joke, which hardly needs belabouring, is that among those asked for their opinion on the news was Roger Daltrey, who on several occasions famously sang, if he did not compose, the line "Hope I die before I grow old". (Pete Townshend is maintaining a wise and dignified silence about this, as far as I can see.)

To The Who's lead singer's credit, his concern, and others', is also for the innumerable nameless session musicians who can still hope to pick up the odd cheque from the industry for having played a part, however small, in the glories of times gone by. He's not trying to cause a big sensation; he's just talking about his generation.