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A Refreshing Change March 5, 2009

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It was raining. It was cold and it was dark. But despite that, and the forecast of more snow, dozens of students turned out for a debate on copyright term. I made my way to the London Metropolitan University on the Holloway Road in North London to chew over the rights and wrongs of copyright term extension with three other speakers, chaired by Scott Cohen, co-founder of The Orchard.

The great thing about engaging in a debate with students is that the discussion is fresh and nothing is taken for granted. The evening started with the basic case for extending copyright term because of the thousands of performers who are treated as second class creators, having a shorter copyright term than other creators. On a CD, the graphics, the lyrics, the sleeve notes, the musical notes all have a copyright of life plus 70 years. The recording, the reason for buying the CD, is limited to 50 years from release.

The first challenge was that extending copyright would lock up content. Would the record companies just sit on their archives and fail to release old recordings? This of course was covered in the original draft of the European legislation. Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had cut through all the arguments over the commercial drive to release 50 year old recordings by including a use-it-or-lose-it clause in the Commission’s draft Directive published last July. A few people questioned why record companies should benefit from copyright term extension and again, this had been anticipated by the European Commission by their inclusion of a number of clauses that shifted the benefits in favour of performers, in particular session musicians.

Next up was a proposal that master rights should only be protected if they were owned by the artist. That was dismissed by several attendees as discriminatory. Why should owners of sound recordings be treated differently depending on whether or not they were artists?

Then we got onto the more interesting discussions. One person suggested that copyrights are the same as patents and should have the same period of protection. Another student responded that a patent for a medicine was very different from a recording. The recording is yours but you cannot claim to own a scientific discovery. There was then a proposition that copyright is a bargain or a contract and that the terms should not be changed. That received a similar response as copyright is a basic ownership right. The bargain is the trade over that piece of creative property.

Finally, a member of the audience pointed out that there had been an opportunity to sort this out in 1988 when the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act was enacted. All agreed this would have been easier.

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A Unique Voice February 20, 2009

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Sailing back across the English Channel and sighting the white cliffs of Dover, one song always runs through my head. And of course it is Vera Lynn’s voice that I hear. She made that song and, with it, lifted the hearts of millions during the Second World War and ever since.
 
Now I read that the BNP has requisitioned The White Cliffs of Dover and other classics to sell on its website to raise funds for their political campaigning. Dame Vera Lynn, now aged 91, is not impressed. Unfortunately, the tracks were released in 1941 and so fall outside the copyright term limit. Last week’s vote in the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament may stop this happening in the future but it comes too late for Dame Vera.

It Wasn’t Right At The Time… February 18, 2009

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The reaction to last Thursday’s vote has been interesting. It has received a warm welcome from most quarters, but there are still some harking back to the 2006 Gowers Report. This, they say, proves there is no economic benefit to extending copyright term for the performers and producers. Well, it certainly says that, but does it prove it?

Gowers puts great faith in an economic study he commissioned from an academic at Cambridge University. This is a long document, including a number of dazzling economic formulae (one of which contains an error which renders the result meaningless). Stripping back the commentary, the study is based on a monopoly model, thereby assuming that artists and record companies have monopoly powers when negotiating with retailers. Try telling that to anyone, including a major label, negotiating a deal with Tesco, or iTunes, or HMV. The reality is that the music industry operates on a bargaining model. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation and, because we are so successful in producing records, both in quality and quantity, the retailer tends to have the upper hand. That’s why consumers pay the same for out-of-copyright recordings as they do for those in copyright. It is market forces at work.

But the biggest gap in Gowers’ analysis of the impact of copyright term was the position of performers. He ignored the fact that performers value the royalties they get from their recordings, however big or small. MEPs in Brussels have recognised that and have voted to give musicians their due.

The First Vote February 13, 2009

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It was like scoring the first goal in a football match. It’s not decisive, and the match could turn the other way, but it is a good start to the legislative process.

Sitting in the committee chamber of the European Parliament yesterday was akin to being a spectator in a stadium, but without knowing all the rules. The members of the Legal Affairs Committee arrived one by one for the vote, following a day of debate on issues ranging from taxation of savings income to paternity leave for agricultural workers. Then, at 10 o’clock, the Chairman called for the votes to commence and, after a brief exchange on some last minute amendments, hands were raised in a quick-fire volley of approvals and rejections. They rattled through the 161 amendments in about fifteen minutes, many of them falling away as earlier decisions made them redundant. About twenty of them were approved, giving performers additional benefits from the extended copyright term.

Finally, it was time for the crucial vote on the Copyright Term Directive. A motion from a Green MEP to reject the entire proposal was roundly defeated, followed by approval of the revised text. 17 MEPs voted in favour of the legislation, 5 against, with 2 abstaining. The Legal Affairs Committee had given resounding support for performers, recommending a copyright term of 95 years from release.

Now the Directive has to be approved by the Plenary session of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The story continues…

Don’t they get a salary? February 10, 2009

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Surely musicians get paid just like everyone else? That is the overriding question which has emerged as the copyright term debate unfolds. And it reveals a surprising misconception about our business.

Many seem to assume that musicians are paid in the same way as them, with a salary. Well, no. Musicians are freelance, self-employed, sole traders. While the rest of us enjoy a regular salary, a musician lives on irregular royalties, residuals and fees which are entirely dependent on the success or otherwise of each project.

When a performer goes into a studio to record, they don’t know whether that recording will bomb or fly off the shelves. Every venture is a creative risk and a financial risk. If it bombs, so will the royalties. If it flies, only then will the royalties will flow.

That is why the copyright is so important. It is copyright which confers that basic ownership in a recording and in a performance and it is that ownership which allows the creators and those who invest in them to earn royalties – if, but only if, it is a success.

Misrepresentation February 5, 2009

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Why is it that everyone thinks they can speak for performers? I am in Strasbourg, talking to MEPs about the forthcoming Copyright Term Directive. They have all received emails from consumer groups claiming to represent performer interests. They are advising MEPs to vote against the Directive because it won’t benefit performers. They go on to say that performers don’t want the legislation.

Well. I know three performers who don’t want the copyright term extended. They have their own reasons and I have no problem with that. However, I also know 38,000 performers who do want copyright term extended, now. While I cannot claim to have spoken to every single one of them, I have seen the petition that every single one of them has signed. They are calling on the EU to give them a fair copyright term, on a par with composers and on a par with performers in the USA.

Performers want a copyright term of 95 years and they want it now. MEPs should listen to them, not to others who speak falsely in their name.

Fame not fortune February 4, 2009

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If you’re on a No.1 hit, don’t you deserve a little more than fleeting fame? A Glass of Champagne by Sailor shot to the top of the charts in 1976. It brought fame to the band, but not a fortune. As Phil Pickett, keyboard player with Sailor, pointed out to MPs at the copyright term event on Monday, many people just assume that you are instantly wealthy if you have a no.1 hit. The reality is that you are reliant on the ongoing royalties which dry up for the performers because of the shorter copyright term.

Phil was one of several musicians who battled through snow and ice to get to Parliament and be heard by Ministers. They were supported by MPs who have backed performers in their campaign for a fair copyright term. Some of the MPs had also made Herculean efforts to get to London for the meeting. Michael Connarty MP, on discovering that flights from Scotland were cancelled, transferred to a train, arriving with minutes to spare. Does his love of music and determination to do what’s right for musicians know no bounds?

Also at the meeting were John Whittingdale MP, Bob Blizzard MP and Lord (Chris) Smith of Finsbury, formerly the Culture Secretary of State, as well as the current Minister for Higher Education and IP, David Lammy. David was himself a chorister at Peterborough Cathedral and admitted to receiving the occasional royalty cheque for the Barchester Chronicles. What he did not know was that present in the room was the person who negotiated those payments for him. When he was younger and less powerful, someone was making sure he got his fair dues. Now it’s his turn to do the same for all the British musicians.

Still Fresh 50 Years On February 3, 2009

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Pat Halling, performing legend played live in the Houses of Parliament to help bring about Copyright Term Extension.

Pat Halling, performing legend played live in the Houses of Parliament to help bring about Copyright Term Extension.

Hearing the violin part brought it all to life once more. I was in a beautiful panelled room in the Houses of Parliament listening to a living legend. Pat Halling was playing songs he recorded nearly fifty years ago in Abbey Road Studios.
The moment was made all the more poignant when he pointed out that his royalties on ‘All You Need Is Love’, ‘Downtown’ and hundreds of others would soon stop, even though those recordings are still played all over the world.

Pat also blew the myth that musicians are all rich and famous. In fact, most earn surprisingly little for their work so the royalties that flow from a successful track are even more important.

That was the message to Minister, David Lammy, from Pat and the other musicians at the event. Some had travelled up to 100 miles, through the worst snow in twenty years, just to urge the government to give performers their whole-hearted support on copyright term. Musicians want a fair copyright term – fair relative to other creators – fair relative to our fellow performers in the USA who get 95 years from release.

Pat Halling plays Eleanor Rigby at the Houses of Parliament

Pat Halling plays his legendary music at the Houses of Parliament

It’s not much to ask for a few thousand talented individuals who have helped put Britain at the top of the tree in music and the creative industries.

 

 

 

Living Legends January 30, 2009

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Today I spoke to a living legend. Not a household name. Not a megastar. But, someone whose playing has been heard by millions of people. Indeed, his unique contribution to some of the best known tracks of the 1960s is recognised the world over. He played the violin on Eleanor Rigby…and Love, Love, Love…and countless other recordings.

 

After a lifetime of playing, Pat Halling now faces the prospect of losing his royalties, just because of the shorter copyright term. And he is just one of the 38,000 performers who signed the petition calling for 95 years. When you next hear Eleanor Rigby, listen to the violin part. It’s special. And it’s worth something.

The Heart of the Matter January 29, 2009

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Last night I listened to six youngsters playing some jazz standards with the freshness and vitality we often take for granted. They brought something new to each tune they played, something unique to those musicians, something unique to that performance. They had travelled down from Derby, where they have been learning their craft and rehearsing together for several years under the auspices of Hot House Music. 

 

After their performance in the Houses of Parliament, Michael Connarty MP reminded us of the unfairness facing them as musicians. When they make a recording, which they surely will very soon, they will lose that recording and all their royalties from it just as they reach retirement age. All the other contributors – the composer, the photographer, the writer of the sleeve notes, the designer of the cover – will benefit from the full copyright term of life plus seventy years. The musicians who make the actual recording will get about half that.

 

That’s why the draft Copyright Term Directive is so important.