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The Waiting Game March 16, 2009

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Sitting in on the vote in the Parliamentary Committee last month was like watching a game without knowing the rules. Now I don’t know what the game is, except it involves waiting.

The European Parliament has voted in committee and will vote in plenary next month. In between, the action moves to the Council of Ministers, where officials from the Member States meet in a working group of technocrats. All this activity takes place below the surface. The meetings are closed and no proceedings are published. Snippets of information may emerge but it is impossible to know precisely what is being discussed.

Will the Council reach agreement on the Copyright Term Directive? Will their version of the legislation match the text voted by the Parliamentary Committee? If not, will the two bodies be able to negotiate a compromise version between them? These are all burning questions, affecting thousands of musicians. If anyone sees any white smoke rising from the inner chambers in Brussels, give me a shout.

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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.

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.

One Step Closer to 95 January 21, 2009

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The big debate on the Copyright Term Directive took place in the European Parliament yesterday. MEPs in the Legal Affairs Committee discussed the proposal drafted by the European Commission, as well as numerous amendments that have been put forward by MEPs.

 

The debate was led by Brian Crowley MEP  who is the Rapporteur for this Directive. His role is to steer the legislation through the various Parliamentary procedures so that it can become law. He opened the debate with the clearest explanation of the Directive, its purpose and its benefits to performers.

 

The main opposition to the Directive came from the Greens who are claiming that this Directive will not help performers. Try saying that to the 38,000 who have signed a petition urging the EU to give us a fair copyright term. It is not surprising that this one Directive will not solve all the issues faced by musicians and the industry, but that is not a reason to deal with this one.

 

Brian Crowley concluded the debate by dealing with the points raised in the debate and reminding MEPs that the Directive would guarantee the rights of performers on a level with other creators and, for the first time, create a fund for artists to give them additional benefits.

Explaining the unexplainable January 20, 2009

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Today is a big day. We will hear what the MEPs on the Legal Affairs Committee think about copyright term.

I predict that every MEP that speaks will say he or she has the performers interests at heart. I also predict that some will reflect performers’ views and speak in favour of the Copyright Term Directive. Others will say they want to help performers, and then propose an amendment which is not to our benefit.

My favourite ‘sheep dressed in lamb’s clothing’ is the proposal that performers should be given rights, and then be forced to give them away free. So far, only one MEP has put forward that idea. We’ll see if any other MEPs support her.

By the end of the day, we will have a better idea of which MEPs genuinely have performers’ interests at heart.

 

To Vote or Not To Vote January 15, 2009

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The list of MEPs backing the draft Copyright Term Directive continues to grow. Every day a few more MEPs tell us they will be voting for a fair copyright term for performers and producers.

 

This is perhaps not surprising. You expect politicians to vote in line with their principles or in line with the popular vote from their constituents. If you believe performers should be treated fairly, on a par with other creators, you vote to give them the same copyright term. If you sense that musicians and others in your constituency want you to vote for a fair copyright term, that is how you vote.

 

But what happens if you also vote against everything that the EU does, on principle? You are going to find yourself at odds with yourself. Such is the dilemma of one MEP. Vote yes for the sake of the individuals affected, or vote no for a political ideal.

 

But surely, if you don’t believe in the institutions, you shouldn’t vote at all? Or represent people where you don’t believe there should be any representation? Fortunately, only one MEP has told us he will be voting against the interests of musicians because he doesn’t believe the EU should be doing anything.