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Radiohead and chums demand copyright 'fair play'

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A pop stars' pressure group has called for copyright in sound recordings to be extended beyond the current 50-year term, but has said that artists should be given control of the copyright after 50 years.

The European Commission and European Parliament are debating proposals to extend the period of protection for sound recordings from 50 years to 95 years. The Featured Artists' Coalition (FAC) says that once 50 years have passed copyright should automatically transfer from record labels to artists.

"We believe that all rights in recordings should revert to the artist after 50 years," said a FAC statement, according to the BBC. "While the record companies would lose nothing, as they only expected to own the copyright for the current 50 year term, both artists and consumers stand to gain from this proposal."

The board of the FAC includes Radiohead guitarist Ed O'Brien, singer Kate Nash and Blur Drummer Dave Rowntree.

The FAC has formulated a set of policies on copyright and intellectual property that is different to that of more traditional music industry lobbying groups which have usually represented the rights of record labels rather than artists.

It has launched a 'charter for fair play', outlining how it thinks music makers should be treated. "Artists should retain ultimate ownership of their music," it says. "Rights holders should have a fiduciary duty of care to the originator of those rights and must always explain how any agreement may affect how their work is exploited."

"The digital revolution has swept away the old music business of the 1960s, and changed forever the relationship between artists and fans," said Rowntree. "For companies who made their living sitting between the two, these are increasingly hard times, but for music makers and music fans this should be a fantastic opportunity."

A committee of the European Parliament last week reaffirmed its commitment to the extension of copyright protection in sound recordings to 95 years. A report outlining how the law should change was backed by a vote of the Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee.

"To ensure that performers fully enjoy the additional royalties deriving from copyright extension, the committee amended the original text so as to prevent the use of previous contractual agreements to deduct money from the additional royalties," it said.

But another wing of EU government last week blocked the extension. The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) of the Council of Ministers did not give the plan its backing.

COREPER is a committee made up of the ambassadors to the EU of the 27 member states. It examines and judges proposals before they reach the Council of Ministers, whose approval is needed for any new laws. The UK voted against the term extension at COREPER last week.

The FAC said that any extension of existing rights would act against the interests of artists and would only benefit record companies.

"Record companies would simply gain another 45 years of ownership, entrenching the terms of record contracts signed in an analogue age," the FAC statement said.

A group of recording industry bodies including the Musicians' Union and record label lobby group the British Phonographic Industries (BPI) said that they were unhappy with the vote.

“The British music sector is very disappointed by the absence of agreement on an extension for performers and sound recording rights at the COREPER meeting today, and particularly that our own government, despite its recent positive statements, did not vote in favour of the proposal at this meeting," a joint statement said.

“The UK music sector has lived up to its commitments by reaching an agreement, as demanded by Ministers, that will deliver real benefits to musicians in an extended term. In continuing to hold out for further changes, the government has not heeded the repeated pleas of the very musicians it claims to support, who strongly encouraged it to vote for the proposal today," it said.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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