A report commissioned by the British treasury is recommending not to extend the term of copyrights on recorded music from 50 year to 95 years, an extension pushed by Cliff Richard–excuse me, Sir Cliff Richard–the “British Elvis.” The proposed extension would apply only to recording artists; the British copyright for composers is currently 70 years after the composer’s death. Peter Jamieson, chairman of the British Phonographic Industry, bemoaned the report’s recommendation: “There can be no rationale for discriminating against performing artists . . .” Failure to extend copyright would mean that recordings of, say The Beatles, would begin to lose copyright protection in 2012, the 50th anniversary of their release of Love Me Do.
The difference in treatment between copyrights for recording artists and composers is noteworthy, yet it is hard to be find any policy other than selfishness in quotes such as this, from music journalist Neil McCormack: “You can make a record in 1955 and have been getting royalties . . . Suddenly they’re gone.” Well, yes. Copyrights–in Britain as in the U.S.–have never been perpetual. Their goal is to protect and foster creativity by granting the creator a limited monopoly, not an irrevocable annuity. One who recorded a song (or composed a score, wrote a book, painted a picture, or otherwise followed her muse) in 1955 or 1965 or 1975 was, obviously, sufficiently motivated and protected by the then-existing term of copyright to create. Extending the term of their protection now does not foster new creativity in the artists protected. It extends the monopoly to the few without obvious benefit to the many and further erodes the longstanding distinction between intellectual property (limited in scope and duration) and real or personal property.
Musical copyright terms ‘to stay’, BBC News, 27-Nov-06