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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.


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.

Burnham Leads the Way for Westminster December 11, 2008

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Today was a red letter day for musicians. The UK Government finally announced their support for a fair copyright term for performers and producers. Sitting in the ICA, overlooking St James’ Park, I knew what Andy Burnham was going to say, but it still had a sense of occasion. This was the culmination of years of pressure from musicians and from the industry. When the Gowers Review recommended against extending copyright term, many thought that was the last word on the subject. Today’s announcement goes to show that it is worth persevering for something that matters.
And what finally clinched it? It was the video message from musicians. For the first time, politicians were face to face with the people most affected by losing their royalties on their recordings. No longer could they pretend that this was all about the superstars, or the record companies or that the sums were so small that they didn’t matter. No. This was a heartfelt plea from the musicians who could see their income from their work drying up, while others would be able to reap the rewards that should be due to them.
Now, always read the small print. True, the Government has finally accepted the principle that copyright term should be extended. But they are talking about a term of copyright that would still leave musicians short-changed in relation to composers and graphic artists. We’ll have to keep on explaining that 95 years is the right level for putting performers on a par with their fellow creators. It is no accident that the draft Copyright Term Directive sets 95 years, matching the norm in the USA. If the UK Government wants to show support for musicians, then they should apply the principle of fairness and vote for 95 years.
That said, thank you, Andy, for listening and doing the right thing. Now we just have to get Europe to vote for the new legislation.