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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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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.

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.

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.