Feargal Sharkey: Noises Off

The chief executive of British Music Rights wants music lovers to keep an open mind

Share
Related Topics

Do millionaire rock stars need more money? I can guess your answer. Recent headlines have reported that, thanks to the European Commission, the likes of Sir Cliff Richard and Sir Paul McCartney are in line for a bumper bonus payout. In what was also termed the "Beatles extension", the commission is to debate whether the term of protection for sound recordings is extended to 95 years.

The prospect has aroused all manner of intellectual passions. Certain learned academics have been particularly vocal in their criticisms; claiming in a letter to José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, that any move to extend copyright is one of greed and self-interest. Or, in their own phrase, nothing more than "a spectacular kowtow to one special interest group: the multinational recording industry".

Those were the headlines. Scroll down to the meat of these newspaper articles and a slightly different picture emerged. In fact, the commission's primary aim is not to help major labels or to prop up the pensions of so-called "featured artists". Quite explicitly, the first line of the proposal states that it endeavours "to improve the social situation of performers, and in particular session musicians, taking into account that performers are increasingly outliving the existing 50-year period of protection for their performances".

The approach of the commission is actually to provide support for some of the music industry's "invisible" talent, whose names and faces are tucked away in the notes and credits. It is these session musicians, many of whom played a pivotal role in the creation of what we now term pop music, that the commission is looking to help.

Their circumstances will often be starkly at odds with the glamour that surrounds outsider perceptions of the music business. Even today, only around 5 per cent of British performers will earn more than £10,000 a year. Although typically "bought out" by a one-off payment at the time of recording, session players continue to receive a drip-drip percentage of royalties whenever a song is broadcast on TV or radio. Many rely on this, however inconsistent or paltry it might appear to be.

Are we interested in supporting these individuals? From a personal perspective, I most certainly am. Under current copyright laws, once the 50-year rule is up, that performance-income tap will be turned off for ever, just when some of these hugely talented people will need it most.

Even more intriguing is the prospect, again written into the commission's proposal, of session players benefiting from the revenues of future recorded sales. This is timely, given the digital revolution that has blown open access to music and created a variety of new income streams.

Ironically, it is so-called "heritage acts" who, so far, have been the main beneficiaries of the digital era. Such artists, who have been signed and marketed, are now increasingly able to sell direct to a ready-made fan base, even without a recording contract. If session players and musicians could also get a second bite at the cherry, I'd be all for that.

Of course, the other important factor here is the music fan. A healthy copyright system requires careful balance between the creator and consumer, and the academics argue keeping the 50-year rule will mean cheaper prices.

Their logic is half-right, at best. In the digital world, for instance, Apple's iTunes Store sells all tracks for 79p, regardless of copyright. Who knows how music will be sold in 10 years' time?

In the physical world, I'm sure prices would fall – but only as a result of fewer well-annotated, lovingly-prepared re-issue albums, and a surplus of ill-prepared bargain-bucket compilations. Is this really the kind of entrepreneurialism they are looking to advocate?



Feargal Sharkey is chief executive of British Music Rights

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'