Yesterday (September 12) saw a change in European copyright law ratified by the EU Council of Ministers in Brussels. It means that performers and producers of musical works will now be protected by copyright law for an additional 20 years – from 50 to 70 years. This means, for example, that Herbert von Karajan’s DG Beethoven symphony cycle for DG, released in 1962, will no longer be available for anyone to reissue: it will now be protected until 2032. In the field of pop music, artists like The Beatles, Tom Jones, Roger Daltrey, Sir Cliff Richard (who spearheaded the petition for the law’s extension) and numerous others working in the early 1960s, would be protected.
The change in the law, which has been resisted by the Government, will now have to be adopted in EU member states within two years.
For classical music fans – well served by companies like Naxos, Pristine Classical, Regis and others who have ensured that major recordings that have fallen out of copyright are continuously available in often superb transfers – the future is less clear. Unless the original recording companies (usually the Majors) take the stewardship of their back-catalogues seriously, and actively promote the gems that they hold, there is a very real risk that important recordings will simply disappear from sight for another 20 years. It’s one thing to be granted an extension to copyright protection but it’s something quite different to make the most of that opportunity.
Klaus Heymann, Naxos's founder, commented that 'the politicians pushing term extension did not have classical music or even jazz in mind – they don't understand that, in the case of classical music, most of the artists are already dead and are unlikely to benefit from any term extension. This means that, even with use-it or lose-it provisions, most recordings will become orphans because nobody will claim them – in a few cases, heirs or estates will become active but it all depends on whether there's money to be made, which is unlikely in most cases. To sum up my assessment: the majors will keep available or make available recordings they think will make money or will at least recoup the investment in resurrecting them and all others will either be recovered by the artists or their heirs who, in most cases, will not have the money to pay for restorations/transfers or third parties will make them available.' Though he added, 'As a label owner myself I have to be happy about the term extension because it just increased the value of my catalogues by 40 per cent.'
While we applaud artists being rewarded for their work, the onus now has to be on the maintenance and ‘exploitation’ (in the best sense of the word) of the riches of the recorded catalogue, rather than a dog-in-the-manger protectionism.
James Jolly, Editor-in-Chief