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EU commissioner backs record biz on copyright extensions

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European internal markets commissioner Charlie McCreevy has thrown his weight behind the long-running record industry campaign to extend copyright protection for sound recordings.

Under proposals the Irish politician announced yesterday, performance rights holders such as Cliff Richard would receive royalties for 95 years rather than the current 50 year term. It would bring the EU in line with the US, where copyrights have been repeatedly extended at the behest of the Disney corporation.

The domestic push for term extension was comprehensively rejected by the Gowers Review of intellectual property in 2006. Based on economic analysis by Cambridge University, Financial Times former editor Andrew Gowers concluded that the beneficiaries of extension would be mostly "major record labels and their shareholders".

The UK government accepted his recommendation in July 2007, saying "the review took account of the question of parity with other countries such as the US, and concluded that, although royalties were payable for longer there, the total amount was likely to be similar – or possibly less – as there were fewer revenue streams available under the US system".

Long before then, however, the BPI signalled its intention to take the lobbying campaign to Brussels in spite of Gowers' evidence. In an interview with The Register, Gowers lamented: "They [the EU] will surely be descended upon by the lobbyists in the coming months."

That European assault has now apparently borne its first fruit.

"I disagree with Gowers," McCreevy said yesterday. "It is the performer who gives life to the composition and, while most of us have no idea who wrote our favourite song, we can usually name the performer." The UK offers composers copyright protection for their lifetime plus 70 years.

McCreevy's 95-year plan would need to be backed by the European Parliament and then a majority of national governments. The UK has not indicated any shift in its position. The Tory opposition, however, has offered the BPI copyright extension in exchange for an undertaking from its members to provide "positive role models for young kids to look up to, draw inspiration from, and aspire to be".

The European proposals also include a consultation on how to operate copyright infringement levies on blank media across the bloc, and powers for musicians to jump ship to a new record label if their current one won't re-release old albums. ®

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