Music copyright still divisive, despite MEPs’ backing


The European Parliament last week backed an increase in copyright protection for musicians from 50 to 70 years, in a move aimed at ensuring longer royalties for artists and record companies. But the move caused concern among consumer and green groups, who called on member states to reject the proposal.

Voting on 23 April, EU lawmakers backed proposals that would extend protection for artists to 70 years from the date of the first publication or performance of their song.

The draft legislation, which still needs the support of the 27 EU member states before becoming law, is aimed in part at shielding the recording industry from the rise of the Internet, and the piracy that comes with it.

“The current differences in term of protection, particularly between Europe and the US, cause legal uncertainty and piracy, especially in the digital environment, where there are no boundaries,” said Brian Crowley MEP (UEN, Ireland), the author of the Parliament’s report, in his explanatory statement.

“The extended term would also benefit the record producers,” said Crowley. “It would generate additional revenue from the sale of records in shops and on the Internet.”

MEPs also proposed introducing a specific fund for session musicians and financed by producers, who would be forced to set aside at least 20% of the revenue gained from the proposed copyright extension on an annual basis. Collecting societies would be entitled to administer the annual supplementary remuneration.

No agreement yet with EU member states

The European Commission had previously proposed extending copyright protection to 95 years. But Crowley decided to bring this down to 70 years, so as to facilitate an agreement with member states in the EU Council of Ministers.

“The 70-year extension seems to have support from a majority in the Council,” a Parliament source said. However, he said there was “no agreement yet” with the Council.

Jacques Toubon MEP (EPP-ED, France) welcomed the Parliament's backing of the directive, saying it "will guarantee more proceeds over a longer period to musicians and in particular session musicians". Toubon, who is shadow rapporteur on the issue for the Parliament's majority group, expressed his confidence that longer copyright terms "will fund creation and production, and will not, as such, increase prices for the consumer".

Toubon added that copyright extension was "necessary for the EU to strengthen intellectual property, and for all the creators and broadcasters of content which represents an important share of the development capacity of an economy based on knowledge and culture".

Helen Smith, executive chair of Impala, a trade group of independent music labels, described the Parliament's vote as "great news for independent music companies and artists across Europe, who produce 80% of all new releases".

"Europe needs strong copyright to fully value its world famous cultural capital and to incentivise creativity and innovation," she told EURACTIV.

Francine Cunningham, head of European communications at IFPI, a trade association representing the global recording industry, said the Parliament's backing for an extension of copyright protection had shown that the issue was "a matter of fairness for the many talented performers who contribute to Europe's exciting music culture".

"We now urge the EU member states in the Council to do the right thing and support this proposal, which narrows the copyright gap between Europe and other important music markets around the world which currently provide a longer term of protection."

The Greens and consumer groups, however, were less enthusiastic.

Eva Lichtenberger, an Austrian MEP who followed the issue for the Greens, said: "Parliament's vote will be music to the ears of the big record companies and top-earning artists. If the legislation was truly about helping artists and consumers, MEPs would have agreed to give 100% of its benefits to performers and not just 20% - most of which will be gobbled up by a handful of already super-rich superstar performers."

"In the digital music age, record companies can no longer justify taking a huge cut of royalties, leaving only leftovers for the artists. They are pocketing money that in the past would have been spent much more on physical distribution and promotion. We need copyright rules relevant for the digital age, and innovative solutions to ensure that artists and music lovers get the best possible deal, not the middle men."

Monique Goyens, director-general of BEUC, the European consumer organisation, was sceptical about the music industry's attempts to prolong copyright protection. In particular, she was highly critical of industry's attempts to fight illegal downloading over the Internet.

"They are very well-organised," Goyens told EURACTIV in a wide-ranging interview. "When they come to lobby the Commission, they come with Mick Jagger or Charles Aznavour. And they are certainly not the ones who need most of the money coming from downloading."

Goyens was doubtful that industry pressure to fight illegal downloading on the Internet ultimately favours creativity. "It's very refreshing to discover that artists are being known now because they put something on the Internet. That's really creativity. That's making a difference with the majors. That also brings variety in our cultural richness."

Moreover, Goyens says music companies have so far failed to engage in constructive dialogue with consumer organisations. 

"I really believe in creativity of the European industry, and I really think that for the moment, they are not using their creativity to find a good solution to this problem."

Goyens had one expression which she believes encapsulates the situation with music copyrights and the Internet. "The technology is of the 21st century, the legislation is of the 19th century and the right holder organisations are of the Middle Age."

Under current EU laws, recorded musical performances are protected for a maximum of 50 years. This means that over the fifty-year period, performers receive remuneration for each time their work is played on air. After 50 years, artists lose control over the use of their works and no longer receive this income.

In 2009, the EU launched its European Year for Innovation and Creativity, which seeks to promote public awareness of areas such as education, culture, innovation and enterprise (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).  

  • The directive is now being sent to the EU Council of Ministers for first reading.
  • The Czech Presidency has not yet decided whether it wants to put the issue on the agenda of a forthcoming meeting.

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