Sunday, July 18, 2004

A CTEA in the EU because of an Elvis song?

An Elvis song called "That's Allright" is going to enter the public domain on Jan 1st, 2005 in Britain.  The song was recently rereleased in Britain and is currently, for some reason, in the top 5 of the Brit charts.  

In the United States, BMG will continue to own the rights to the recording. Under the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, sound recordings are protected for 95 years from the day of recording in the United States -- for post-1976 recordings, coverage is the artist's life plus 70 years.  In most of the European Union, the duration is 50 years after the first release of a sound recording.
Record companies are calling this Elvis situation a "wakeup call" for EU lawmakers, arguing that they need to extend copyright as occured in the US with the Copyright Term Extension Act.  Of course, since anything that falls into the public domain becomes the property of the people, this would amount to a massive wealth transfer from the populace of the entire EU to the recording companies (as it was here in the US when the CTEA passed).

"I regard this week's anniversary as a wakeup call and a call to arms to step up a gear or two in our campaign to lobby for a similar term in the EU," said Peter Jamieson, executive chairman of British Phonograph Industry, in a recent speech.

It would be a shame if such an act passed in the EU, as it was here.  The fact is that all creative works are based on what came before.  Without access to the works of the past artists and regular people are limited in what they can do with the works and how they can use them.  Extending copyright terms impacts negatively on artistic innovation in music, writing, painting, photography, etc. 

When a company produces a copyrighted work and are granted state sponsored copyright protection for the life of the author of the work plus 50 or more years, that company has also made an agreement with the public - that at the end of the copyright term they will turn that work over to them via the public domain.  The work was protected by the state, later it goes to the populace of that state.  Companies that are trying to extend their copyrights at the last second are renigging on that promise.  I'm no idealist, this effort isn't surprising considering the money at stake, but I hope that courts will consider such reasoning when hearing these cases. 

The fact is that at the time protection is granted the creator has already agreed to a time limit for that protection.  Lengthening that protection will not encourage more creation, it only stifles innovation.  There is not a single artist out there who would decide to stop creating because they'll get only 50 years of protection after their death instead of 70.  It's ludicrus in light of the purpose of copyright law - to encourage innovation and creation by protecting the works for a limited time.

Reuters article quoted here.


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