It's hard to believe but the Government last week stood up to lobbying by the music industry and a handful of pensionable pop stooges and turned down claims for a copyright extension from 50 years to 70 years for recorded music. Last year the Gowers Report recommended against an extension but in May the committee for media, culture and sport backed the record industry. Fortunately, the Government ignored the committee, citing Gowers:
"The review... concluded that an extension would not benefit the majority of performers, most of whom have contractual relationships requiring their royalties be paid back to the record label."
At BoingBoing Cory Doctorow praised the decision:
This is the first time that I know of, in the history of the world, that any country has given up on extended copyright terms. In the US, the Supreme Court found that 98 percent of the works in copyright were "orphans" with no visible owner and no way to clear them and bring them back into the world. Extending copyright dooms nearly every author's life's work to obscurity and disappearance, in order to make a few more pennies for the tiny minority of millionaire artists like Cliff Richard (and billionaires like Paul McCartney).
Of course, the record labels refuse to give up, vowing to continue the fight in Europe on their own. However much money they lose through filesharing and other nefarious threats to their business, there's always a little cash left for lobbying.
If anyone actually believes that the record labels are on the side of the artists, a recent study by the Centre for Intellectual Property Policy and Management at Bournemouth Law School suggests that copyright may not benefit artists at all. "Writers in Germany earned less than those in the UK, despite the fact the country's copyright regime is more beneficial to authors," The Register reported.
Another study, by a Cambridge economist, found that the optimal copyright term is 14 years, which is what it was way back in 1709 when it was established in law in the first place. Is there any chance of copyright terms being rolled back that far, or even rolled back at all? Of course not but it's good that someone's doing the maths.
Not only did the Gowers Report argue against copyright extensions, it also suggested that restructuring record contracts to give artists a better deal would be more effective than copyright extension. The record labels, who as we all know want nothing more than a good deal for their artists, seem strangely reluctant to follow Gowers' advice.