EU proposal to extend copyright: what my MEPs think

In late January I linked a Cory Doctorow article discussing an EU proposal to extend music copyright from 50 to 95 years. Mr. Doctorow thinks this would be a bad thing, as do I.

Taking a suggestion from that article, I wrote to all nine of my Members of European Parliament (easy to do from WriteToThem) and asked them to oppose this proposal on my behalf. Here’s who my MEPs are:

  • Robert Evans – Labour
  • Syed Kamall – Conservative
  • Gerard Batten – UK Independence
  • Charles Tannock – Conservative
  • John Bowis OBE – Conservative
  • Baroness Sarah Ludford – Liberal Democrat
  • Mary Honeyball – Labour
  • Jean Lambert – Green
  • Claude Moraes – Labour

Here’s what I wrote to them:

Dear Claude Moraes, Charles Tannock, Syed Kamall, Mary Honeyball, Gerard Batten, Jean Lambert, Baroness Sarah Ludford, John Bowis OBE and Robert Evans,

I am a London resident and a lover of culture and music. There’s an important issue under consideration by the EU that I need your help with. There is an event in Brussels *tomorrow* that I would like you to attend if possible.

On 27 January 2009, you have the chance to hear the facts about copyright term-extension for sound recordings in the EU. Under the terms of a proposal from Charlie McCreevy, the EU’s commissioner for the internal market and services, the EU would extend the term of copyright on existing sound recordings from 50 to 95 years.

That’s wrong, and bad for a whole host of reasons. Fifty years is already a very reasonable amount of time for copyright to hold and for music to pass into the public domain. Extending the period to 95 years will hurt music
lovers. Kids won’t be able to use older music for school projects. DJs won’t be able to use music that would normally have been public domain for remixing. Old recordings run the risk of being lost if they’re not digitised. Most artists will get just a tiny bit more money. It will only be the rights-holding record companies that benefit from such an extension.

Those companies are undoubtedly lobbying for the acceptance of this copyright-extension proposal. The event tomorrow in Brussels is to give voice to the majority and dissenting opinion, is one that I share, and one that I ask you all – as my MEPs – to please represent:
“Sound copyright: which way for the EU?”
http://soundcopyright.eventbrite.com/

To assist me you could also sign this petition:
http://www.soundcopyright.eu/blog/sign%20the%20Sound%20Copyright%20petition
and watch this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kijON_XODUk

More info is here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jan/26/cory-doctorow-copyright-law
and here:
http://www.soundcopyright.eu/blog/come-brussels-and-demand-sound-copyright

Thank you very much for your time and help.

Yours sincerely,

Tim Dickinson

So far I’ve received four responses. Here they are, in the order I received them.

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: Gerard Batten
 
Sent: 26 January 2009 15:35:33
To: ‘Tim Dickinson’

Dear Mr Dicknson,

Rest assured that I and my UKIP colleagues will vote agaisnt this
legislation.

Yours sincerely,

Gerard Batten MEP
UKIP London

Very short, and in agreement with me. Okay, I may not agree with any other policy that the isolationist, Euro-fearing, history-obsessed UKIPers have, but at least they’re representing the view I’m asking them to. Next?

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: TANNOCK Charles
Sent: 27 January 2009 08:16:32
To: Tim Dickinson

Dear Mr Dickinson,

Thank you for your email regarding the proposed term
extension Directive.

Issues surrounding copyright extension are controversial
and the level of copyright, and copyright term, are
matters that have been of importance to policymakers
over the last decade. The Conservatives have actively
followed and been involved in the debate and are of the
opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it
is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their
money and invest in the future.

We need a copyright framework that is both flexible and
accessible and the Commission proposal meets many of
these requirements. In the digital age, music is readily
available online and copyright provisions need to take
account of market changes. Extending the term of copyright to 95 years is essential if we expect performers and the music industry to carry on investing, innovating and creating and it is only right that they are given greater
protection for their investments.

In economic terms, the copyright extension would also be
beneficial. In a Price Waterhouse Report, it was shown
that an extension could boost the lagging music industry
by £3.3 Billion over the next 50 years. The extension
would also address the distortion of competition between
the United States and the EU. At a time when creative
industries based on intellectual property are generating
an increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, the current
disparity between the term of protection in the EU and
the US clearly puts British record companies and
performers at a competitive disadvantage. The extension
to 95 years would therefore help the competitiveness of
British music industry in the global marketplace.

Furthermore, a significant gap between the length of term
of protection in the EU and the US facilitates piracy,
particularly in the online environment where technology
enables recordings in Europe to be transmitted over the
Internet to countries where recordings are still in
copyright.

The extension would also improve the social situation of
performers, who have been disadvantaged by the existing
50-year term which often does not cover their lifetime.
While Composers have benefited from a term of copyright
that extended to the composer’s life and 70 years beyond,
performers have been disadvantaged but this new proposal brings parity to those involved in the music industry.

The UK has a very strong music industry and safeguards
must be put in place if we are to maintain our position
in today’s marketplace. The copyright extension is a
first step in this direction and should be supported.

Yours sincerely

Charles Bennett
Assistant

Office of Dr. Charles Tannock MEP
Conservative/London Region

European Parliament

A very long and detailed response from the Conservative, then. And it’s come from the MEPs assistant, not from himself. But he’s against my point of view. He is – surprise, surprise – taking the big-business line about attempting to secure profits for those who are likely to hold the rights to performances: the recording companies. Boo. Next?

RE: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: KAMALL Syed
Sent: 10 February 2009 22:23:30
To: Tim Dickinson

Dear Tim,

Thank you for your email. I apologise for the delay
in replying.

While I personally share your concerns over the British
government’s and the European Commission’s proposals,
David Cameron last year announced that Conservative
Party policy is to support the extension of the
copyright term for sound recordings from fifty to
seventy years.

On the European Commission’s proposals I have contacted
my colleague Malcolm Harbour MEP who is the Conservative spokesman on Internal Market and Consumer Protection. He understands that issues surrounding copyright extension are controversial and the level of copyright, and copyright term, are matters that have been of importance to policymakers over the last decade. He has actively followed and been involved in the debate and is of the opinion that Copyright is extremely important because it is the way artists are rewarded, businesses make their money and invest in the future.

He believes that we need a copyright framework that is
both flexible and accessible and the Commission proposal
meets many of these requirements. He says that in the
digital age, music is readily available online and
copyright provisions need to take account of market
changes. He thinks that extending the term of copyright
to ninety-five years is essential if we expect performers
and the music industry to carry on investing, innovating
and creating and it is only right that they are given
greater protection for their investments.

Mr. Harbour notes that in economic terms, the copyright
extension would also be beneficial. In a Price Waterhouse
Report, it was shown that an extension could boost the
lagging music industry by £3.3 Billion over the next
fifty years. He points out that the extension would also
address the distortion of competition between the United
States and the EU. At a time when creative industries
based on intellectual property are generating an
increasing percentage of GDP in the EU, he believes that
the current disparity between the term of protection in
the EU and the US clearly puts British record companies
and performers at a competitive disadvantage. Mr. Harbour says that the extension to ninety-five years would therefore help the competitiveness of British music
industry in the global marketplace.

Furthermore, Mr. Harbour tells me that a significant gap
between the length of term of protection in the EU and
the US facilitates piracy, particularly in the online
environment where technology enables recordings in Europe to be transmitted over the Internet to countries where recordings are still in copyright.

Mr. Harbour believes that the extension would also
improve the social situation of performers, who he feels
have been disadvantaged by the existing fifty year term
which often does not cover their lifetime. He says that
while composers have benefited from a term of copyright
that extended to the composer’s life and seventy years
beyond, performers have been disadvantaged but he believes that this new proposal brings parity to those involved in the music industry.

Mr. Harbour believes that the UK has a very strong music
industry and that safeguards must be put in place if we
are to maintain our position in today’s marketplace. Mr.
Harbour feels the copyright extension is a first step in
this direction and should be supported.

However, I did meet with the Open Rights Group recently
and I will be talking to them again to see if we can make
the case for no extension.

Thanks again for having taken the time to write to me.

Best regards,

Syed

SYED KAMALL
Conservative MEP for London
http://www.syedkamall.com

Very interesting. Another Conservative MEP, and he seems to have pretty much the exact same lengthy reply that I got from the other Conservative MEP who got back to me, Dr. Tannock. There are two interesting differences, though:

1. Kamall starts off by saying that he personally disagrees with the proposal to extend copyright, but has been told to toe the party line.

2. He inserts the name of Malcolm Harbour MEP, Conservative spokesman on Internal Market and Consumer Protection, as the one who affirms the party opinion on the matter, and prefaces each statement with Harbour’s name. Boo too. Okay, next?

Re: Letter from your constituent Tim Dickinson‏

From: JeanLambert Office
Sent: 18 February 2009 12:09:36

Green Party Member of the European Parliament for London

Dear Tim,

Thank you for writing to me about the Copyright Term Directive. I have not worked directly on this Directive, as I do not sit on the legal affairs committee. However, I have spoken to my Green Group colleagues and our legal affairs advisers.

I am pleased to inform you that we will not be supporting the extension of copyright for performers from 50 years to 95 years. While we are in favour of the principal of providing additional income to older musicians, we do not feel this Directive will accomplish this aim and are concerned about its other possible impacts.

Experts have pointed out that it could reduce access to our cultural heritage. In particular, the replaying and use of the vast broadcast archives in Europe could face new barriers, as the orphan works problem is likely to be exacerbated.

Those supporting the extension have suggested that the proposals will make a positive contribution to cultural diversity by offering incentives to record companies to digitise niche cultural works. However, by the Commission’s own admission, the record companies are likely to concentrate on reissuing high earning material. In fact, studies show that these works are more likely to be preserved once they enter the public domain than by the copyright holders themselves.

If the Commission is serious about addressing the issue of older musicians’ lack of financial security (although why it should single out this particular profession is unclear), it would be more pertinent to examine the situation of contractual terms between performers and producers, or a social insurance scheme, rather than extending the copyright term.

If you would like more information on the Green Group’s position please visit our website at: www.greens-efa.org.

Yours sincerely,

Jean Lambert MEP

Now we’re talking. Lambert gets it. There’s an acknowledgment that no one’s against ensuring performers make money. There’s the realisation that extending copyright for performances probably wouldn’t achieve that, and would probably have undesirable side effects. Well done.