Brussels is expected to push ahead next week with reforms that would allow European singers and musicians to enjoy proceeds from their work for many more years.
Proposals to extend copyright protection for performing artists from 50 to 95 years were first outlined by internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy in February and could be approved by the European Commission at Wednesday’s meeting.
If so, Europe would move into line with the US, and musicians – from ageing rock stars to session players – could enjoy a boost to their pensions.
The passage to date has not been entirely smooth. Two prominent commissioners – Italy’s Antonio Tajani and telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding – are thought to have opposed the move, on the grounds that it would mainly benefit top-selling artists and record companies. Additionally, it is claimed, there could be problems for cultural institutions that want to make archives available online.
Any legislation, meanwhile, will need the backing of a majority of member states and the European parliament, and could face further hurdles then. Britain, for example, has expressed reservations in the past.
But there are suggestions in Brussels that the go-ahead for copyright extension could be a trade-off for a separate, widely leaked decision by the Commission’s antitrust arm on the way “collecting societies” – whose job is to gather up and distribute music royalties – do business. Some officials say that the fact that both measures are likely to come up at the same meeting is “coincidence”. Others maintain that the two are connected.
Either way, under the draft antitrust decision, societies are likely to see their domestic monopolies over broadcast material broken down. Instead, they would be encouraged to compete – by offering better administration – for the right to handle an artist’s performing rights.
This decision stems from a complaint six years ago by broadcaster RTL, which argued that it should be able to get the rights to use a piece of music across Europe through a single collecting society.
But the prospect of it being finalised has prompted a rearguard action by some societies, and heavy lobbying of commissioners as well as Commission president José Manuel Barroso.
Societies themselves have kept a low public profile, but the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance – some of whose leading lights serve on societies’ boards – has been extremely vocal.
However, their claim that the decision could result in rights owners being obliged to license their repertoires for lower income is strenuously denied by EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. “There is no reason why the case should have any impact on the level of rights set at national level,” her spokesman says.
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