Copyright Extension

What is it?

Copyright has historically been extended in two dimensions term and scope. At present, copyright on sound recordings in the UK lasts about 50 years. Some industry bodies and individuals want this to be extended to 95 years. The extension of scope has normally done through court cases, extending the cover from books, to maps, to music, to software and even to the ideas expressed therein.

Executive Summary

In Europe and in the UK the possibility of copyright extension is being lobbied for. ....

Protection is harmonised across the EU and, as such, is to some extent an area of EU competence, any changes in the length of protection must therefore be made through the Commission.

Problems and Concerns


Extensions to the terms of existing rights effectively rob the public domain. For example a work created by an author who died in 1950 would become free from copyright in 2020, but, if the term of copyright were extended retrospectively by ten years then the public would not be able to freely duplicate that work until 2030.

Therefore the value of the book is withheld from the public (i.e. you) causing decreased availability and higher prices, yet the original author will not benefit from any greater incentive to create more books - not least because he is dead.

See also Justification Of Copyright


Cases such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and SCO vs IBM, illustrate the way in which rights holders continuously attempt to extend the scope of copyright to include the underlying ideas. To the extent IBM or Dan Brown did plagiarise literal text, that is of course infringement, but historically copyright has not protected ideas, only the expression of that idea in a particular work. Therefore, the historical hypothesis that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdaline is not a protected notion, but the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail as an expression of that idea is protected.

Magnus Linklater[1] wrote a convincing piece in The Times which considered the additional protections normally awarded to historical facts:

You cannot plagiarise a genuine historical fact, only a made-up one. If I can demonstrate that my Faust is based on hard and proven research,that the man existed and that his case is meticulously documented in the 16th-century archives of Wittenberg, then I can genuinely claim that I am recycling history rather than stealing a good story

Arguments for Extension

Argument: harmonise our law with that of the United States
Counter Argument: So the United States extended its copyright to align with us, and now we have proposals to harmonise with it. There is a danger that constant leapfrogging will extend copyright indefinitely.
Argument: Revenue streams from back catalogue sales provide the funding for new ventures and to promote new talent
Counter Argument: Peter Jameson of the BPI argued in The Guardian on 24 April that such investment had contributed to a boom in new British music, citing artists such as Arctic Monkeys, James Blunt and Kaiser Chiefs. However, Arctic Monkeys are with Domino Records, which was founded in 1993 and rarely re-releases records that pre-date itself, and James Blunt was signed by the US label Custard Records, which was set up only in 2004 and so has little back catalogue material to release; the same is true of Kaiser Chiefs, who are signed to B-Unique, which was also founded in 2004. Those are hardly good examples of recording companies that rely on significant revenue from the back catalogue profits that would be under threat if we were to stick at the 50-year copyright term.
Argument: leading performers, such as Sir Cliff, and session musicians argue that they need the revenues that flow from copyright payments on their old recordings as a sort of pension fund.
Counter Argument: Copyright was never meant to be a pension fund.
Argument: many proponents of an extension see the lapsing of works into the public domain as a danger to their preservation and availability.
Counter Argument: extension could render much of our musical heritage inaccessible to the public for a very long time. The older that material gets, the less likely it is to be re-released—indeed, less than 2 per cent. of the oldest material is re-released. In addition many wanted works are in danger of being lost due to damage caused by the age of the recording medium.



"Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly . . . I believe, Sir, that I may with safety take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad. And I may with equal safety challenge my honourable friend to find out any distinction between copyright and other privileges of the same kind; any reason why a monopoly of books should produce an effect directly the reverse of that which was produced by the East India Company's monopoly of tea, or by Lord Essex's monopoly of sweet wines. Thus, then, stands the case. It is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good."

-- Thomas Babbington Macaulay, in a speech to Parliament, 1841 (quoted in full on kuro5hin).

Outside the UK

In the EU, while the term is 50 years, artists also receive royalties every time their song is played in a bar, restaurant or hairdresser's. In the US, under the bars and grills exception, few such royalty payments are made. The definition of "public" and therefore the scope of protection of sound recordings is far broader in the EU than in the United States.

Texas Rep Lamarr Smith has introduced a bill to clear the way for the re-use of "orphan works" whose authors are unknown or unlocatable.

In June 2006 the French Parliament passed a controversial bill, known as DADVSI, reforming French copyright law. It is feared that it may hamper free software and restrict the right to make copies of copyrighted works for private use.



2007-05-16 - The Register - MPs cosy up with Sir Cliff on copyright term
Author: Chris Williams
Summary: A report released today by the Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Select Committee attempts to torpedo the recommendations of last year's wide-ranging intellectual property report for the Treasury by Andrew Gowers, the former editor of the Financial Times. ... Releasing its counter arguments in "New Media and the Creative Industries", the select committee said Gowers had failed to give proper weight to the "moral right" of Sir Cliff to retain ownership of his 1958 performance on Move It. The committee is chaired by Conservative John Whittingdale, who has acted as a spokesman for record industry trade body the BPI in the past on its battle with digital music trends. ... The parliamentary moves to reanimate the debate have drawn consternation from the Open Rights Group, among others. It has a list of the MPs who have signed the motion here.
2007-05-16 - BBC - Music stars 'must keep copyright'
Summary: UK copyright laws should be extended to prevent musicians from missing out on royalties in later life, MPs have said. Sir Paul McCartney and Sir Cliff Richard are among the artists who will see the current 50-year limit on their early sound recordings expire soon. The House of Commons culture committee said people had a "moral right" to keep control of their creations while alive. The copyright term for sound recordings should be extended to at least 70 years, the committee recommended.
2007-05-16 - The Guardian - MPs come to the defence of Cliff Richard's copyright
Author: Paul MacInnes
Summary: With many 50s artists on the brink of losing their right to royalties, a Commons committee has recommended that musicians get at least an extra 20 years of revenue from their recordings. After doing their best to let the British public know they have the Arctic Monkeys on their iPods, MPs have today shown their commitment to the other end of the music spectrum, leaping to the defence of Cliff Richard's copyright

2007-05-15 - PC Pro - 75 MPs back copyright extension motion
Author: Simon Aughton
Summary: Seventy-five MPs have signed a parliamentary motion calling for an extension of the lifetime of copyright on sound recordings. ... An EU report subsequently agreed with Gowers that the 50-year term was sufficient, arguing that any extension would 'strengthen and prolong' the major record companies dominance of the market 'to the detriment of competition'. ... Connarty disagrees, arguing that it is low-earning musicians who lose out. ... The Open Rights Group disagrees, saying that certain politicians 'appear to be neglecting their IP studies'.
2007-04-30 - ars technica - Gowers: I took the "politically prudent" course on copyright in IP report
Author: Nate Anderson
Summary: Andrew Gowers, former head of the Financial Times, led a UK inquiry into intellectual property rights last year and concluded (among many other things) that musical copyrights should not be extended from their current 50-year length to 95 years. Now, in an interview, Gowers says that the economic data he saw even supported reducing the 50 year term, but that political realities prevented him from recommending this.
2006-11-27 - The Guardian - Music business fights the 50-year rule
Author: Owen Gibson
Summary: The British music industry today launched a last-ditch appeal to head off the findings of an upcoming review expected to reject their pleas to extend the copyright period on sound recordings. ... The Open Rights Group, which has argued alongside the British Library and artists such as Blur's Dave Rowntree that the current status quo provides the best balance between compensation and freedom of expression, said it was "encouraged and delighted by the news".
2006-11-27 - Sunday Telegraph - Music industry loses copyright fight
Author: Dan Roberts
Summary: The record industry has lost its battle to extend copyright protection for ageing pop stars after a long-awaited Treasury review concluded it would do little to encourage new creativity.
2006-11-26 - BBC - No copyright extension for songs
Summary: The copyright on sound recordings will not be extended after an independent review commissioned by the Treasury.
2006-11-16 - Financial Times - Breaking the deal
Author: James Boyle
Summary: The copyright term for sound recordings in the UK is 50 years. (It is longer for compositions.) Obviously, 50 years of legalised exclusivity was enough of an incentive to get them to make the music in the first place. Now they want to change the terms of the deal retrospectively.
2006-08-17 - ars technica - MPAA push-polling the public to change copyright views
Author: Anders Bylund
Summary: The MPAA seems to be employing tried-and-true political campaign tactics to sway public opinion of piracy and file sharing toward its own world-view. A few weeks ago, the association announced, a research forum where the MPAA can collect information about moviegoers, their habits and opinions, and what they might want out of the movie watching experience. But the first poll actually conducted there is using highly leading questions that look designed to influence opinions rather than gather them, an unsavoury practice known as push polling.
2006-07-05 - The Globe and Mail - Who's killing Death By Popcorn?
Author: Val Ross
Summary: Artists worry over copyright legislation as a new film is pulled from Harbourfront program. Mounting concern from the Canadian artistic community about how copyright law is restricting their creative work. Hundreds of artists have jointed a coalition calling on the government to reject anti-circumvention legislation and to implement fair use provisions. The story notes how groups such as CRIA have called for the destruction of works alleged to have infringed copyright while Toronto's Harbourfront has pulled a film based on copyright concerns.
Note: Linked to by Boing Boing Canadian artists call for less copyright