April 13, 2011 | Peter Bradwell

Copyright term extension - you can help stop it

In 2009 Open Rights Group campaigned heavily against a proposed Directive aimed at extending the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. The Directive flew in the face of all the credible evidence.

Despite this the proposal passed the European Parliament on April 23 2009 after heavy lobbying from rights holders - another example of the yawning chasm between evidence and copyright policy. This week, the plans are back in front of the European Council and may soon become law.

That's where you come in. If enough people write to their MEPs and ask them to make sure the Directive gets proper scrutiny by the European Parliament, we might be able to put the brakes on this process. MEP Christian Engström has written a 'request for renewed referral'.

Please write to your MEP now and ask them to sign the request and oppose these damaging, ill-considered plans. (For background about the process behind this, see below).

If you are in the UK please write to your MEP here.

If you are not in the UK, please write to your MEP here. 

But isn't making sure artists continue to be paid a good thing?

Yes. But this won't help the majority of artists and comes at the expense of consumers and our cultural realm. The economic evidence is stacked against the proposal. Leading IP professors, the UK government's 'Gowers  Review' of IP, and independent economic analysts have all said that extending the copyright term is unwise. The Financial Times labelled the proposal 'disgraceful' in an editorial in 2009. It will likely result in higher prices for consumers. It will benefit only a small number of artists and businesses - according to a joint academic statement, signed by 80 eminent academics, including several Nobel Laureates, 96% of the economic returns will go to the major record labels and top 20% of performers. Four leading IP professors this week argued that 'If there was a policy designed to suppress social and commercial innovation, retrospective term extension would be your choice.' Large chunks of our cultural history will be locked up.

Looking at the impact on the UK, the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge argued that extending the term of protection will 'likely to have a significant, negative effect, on balance of trade' and that 'it would be particularly inadvisable, given our present state of knowledge, for a rational policy-maker to extend the term of copyright in sound recordings.'

You can read more about the evidence here.

Why will writing to my MEP help?

There's a typically complicated story behind this European decision making process. Since 2009 the Directive has been stuck in the European Council because a number of countries - forming a 'blocking minority' - opposed the plans. One of those Denmark. These last weeks it has emerged that they have switched positions, again after they were lobbied heavily by rights holders, and now support the Directive. That means that if the Council accept the proposal as it was passed by the European Parliament, there is little that will stop this going through. However, a new Parliament was elected shortly after the Directive passed. Here's how MEP Christian Engström described it:

Rule 59 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament state that the EP can reopen a dossier that is still in first reading if a new parliament has been elected since the first reading position was adopted. Since a new European Parliament was elected in June 2009, this is the case.

If 40 or more MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) ask for it, the proposal for a renewed referral will be put to the vote in plenary.If we get a majority there, the President (speaker) of the Parliament shall ask the Commission to refer its proposal again to the parliament. This means that the dossier is open again, and we can have a full discussion about the subject matter.This would be the sensible thing to do.

The previous Parliament’s decision to extend the time for the neighbouring rights was ill considered, and has been heavily criticised by legal and economic scholars. There is no reason for the present Parliament to be bound by it.

This is a dreadful idea that will damage our cultural realm for the benefit of a vanishingly small number of people.

So please write to your MEP now and let's try and see this off.

If you are in the UK please write to your MEP here.

If you are not in the UK, please write to your MEP here.

Comments (26)

  1. Adam Gurney:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 02:15 PM

    Already e-mailed mine, after the Pirate Party UK posted the link to the Swedish Pirate Party MEP's blog on it. Had to write my own blurb entirely, though, this was my attempt:

    Dear Julie Girling, William (The Earl of) Dartmouth, Graham Watson and Trevor Colman,

    I am writing to you in the hope that you will consider signing up to the following proposal:

    Request for
    to Parliament

    pursuant to Rule 59 of the Rules of Procedure

    amending Directive 2006/116/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the term of protection of copyright and related rights (COM(2008)0464 – C6-0281/2008 – 2008/0157(COD)).

    Proposed by Christian Engström, Member of the European Parliament for Piratpartiet, Sweden.

    Whilst I recognise an artist's right to gain suitable compensation for their work, copyright was only ever intended to provide protection for a "reasonable period"; commercial entities, however, are constantly pushing to extend this beyond what could be deemed reasonable by any right thinking person. In fact, if they could do so, it seems they would like nothing more than to demand copyrights in perpetuity but without even giving up reasonable use rights in return.

    There are more than sufficient grounds to not grant the current extension that is being demanded, even more telling is a UK Government report detailing that any such extension would actually cost the public more than any gains to be made by the commercial entites. The Gowers review can be found here:


    Further discussions can be found here:


    And here:


    Please take the time to consider this situation and whether this extension proposal benefits the interests of the people you represent, or just those of the lobbyists, then sign Christian Engström's proposal.

    Yours sincerely,

    Adam Gurney

    1. Adam Gurney:
      Apr 21, 2011 at 04:59 PM

      Just received this informative, though ultimately unproductive, reply from one of my MEP's. Definitely against it, but feels it should be left alone:

      Dear Mr Gurney,

      Thank you for your email of 13April regarding the Commission’s proposed copyright extension to 70 years.

      This plan follows a great deal of debate on the issue in the European Parliament in the last couple of years. I should explain that the measures on copyright were presented as an attempt to improve the social situation of disadvantaged small-name music performers, and it did contain several measures specifically aimed at achieving this goal. Initial Commission proposals suggested an extension of copyright to 95 years, however parliamentarians noted such an extension to all sound recordings from 50 to 95 years would largely benefit the record companies rather than those performers it is ostensibly designed to protect.

      My Group of Liberals and Democrats tabled an amendment in Parliament to reject this extension in its entirety when the matter was before us in April 2009. Unfortunately it was defeated in the vote and a limited version of the extension has now passed.

      In advance of the vote the Liberal Democrat Group tabled an additional amendment in case the wider amendment to reject did not pass. This would have seen the term of protection reduced to 70 years, and applicable only to recordings produced before 1975. This would address the problem that many contracts concluded between record producing companies and performers in the 60s and early 70s resulted in many artists not gaining adequate remuneration for their work. A version of this has now been adopted into the text: the term of protection agreed by Parliament has been reduced from 95 to 70 years; however a Lib Dem proviso of only applying to recordings produced before 1975 did not make it, and the new 70-year term will apply to all sound recordings.

      I note Swedish Pirate Party member Christian Engstrom is now suggesting that measures be undertaken to block the legislation. As I mentioned whilst I disagree with the proposals, they have been dealt with over the last number of years in the Committee and the Parliament, which gave overwhelming support to the measure and I must cede to the majority view of the elected Parliament. I appreciate you will be disappointed, however I hope you will acknowledge Liberal Democrat MEPs worked hard throughout the measures’ progress through Parliament to oppose the extension, and achieved success in halting the heavy handed extension to 95 year extension to copyright.

      Thank you for contacting me on this matter and if I can be of any assistance in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

      In view of your interest in how I might be able to help you, it occurs to me that you might like to receive my weekly email newsletter providing news and my views on EU developments. If so, please let me know and I will add your email address to my distribution list.

      Yours sincerely,

      Graham Watson MEP
      Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for South West England and Gibraltar

  2. Adam Gurney:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 02:42 PM

    And whilst I'm on here, here's an idea someone might like to promote/lobby for: Commercial Copyright Vs Personal Copyright

    Essentially, Personal Copyright is for a private individual and follows the rules presently in place, i.e. life +50/70/whatever years your country has decided. This copyright can be transferred to a company, either through contract of employment/purchase/gift but then it becomes Commercial Copyright.

    Commercial Copyright only lasts 10 years, however, it can be extended every 10 years indefinitely as long as the holder is willing to pay the renewal fee. This essentially reaffirms that the copyright holder deems the copyright to be of worth to them, that they intend to exploit it commercially during that period whether through actual sale, marketing or enforcement of their copyright; if they do retain the copyright, they will have a duty to make the material available to those who wish to purchase it in a convenient format, upon request, thus not allowing it to be "out of print". If the copyright holder lets the renewal lapse, either intentionally or through lack of oversight (though with a reasonable runout period allowed to re-acquire it), or deliberately surrenders it early, then the material willbecome Public Domain.

    Essentially, if a company thinks their product is worth something over excessively long periods, it's up to them to actively demonstrate that it is.

    1. @sickkid1972:
      Apr 13, 2011 at 09:10 PM

      A couple of additional points to add to your interesting idea...

      a) If the company who has purchased the Commercial Copyright licence, allows it to expire/lapse, then the originator regains the Personal Copyright of the piece, (provided they are still alive), before it is declared Public Domain.
      If the originator has died during the period of Commercial Copyright, and it is allowed to expire/lapse then it automatically becomes Public Domain, regardless of the wishes of the originators estate.
      For the estate to hold the Personal Copyright of the originator, the originator needs to be in possession of the Personal Copyright at the time of their death.

      b) If the company holding the Commercial Copyright, cannot or does not wish to exploit the work in question, then they may sell it on to another company, but ONLY for the same price that they paid for it.
      This should encourage them to make the movie/publish the book etc, as the best way of making a return on investment, rather than just buying everything they can relatively cheaply, and auctioning off the rights at a vastly inflated price.

      That's my two penn'orth...

  3. Jim Killock:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 05:22 PM

    Thank you: yes, we alerted the EU PP and Green group about this development last week, but took a few days to get this action ready before pushing it out.

  4. factran:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 05:46 PM

    French translation:
    Madame, Monsieur
    Je vous écris à propos de la proposition de la commission européenne d'étendre la protection du copyright pour les sons enregistrés de 50 à 70 ans.

    Je suis préoccupé du fait que cette directive puisse passer. Cette mesure ne bénéficiera uniquement qu'à un petit nombre d'artistes et d'entreprises : 96% des recettes iront aux grands labels, et à quelques grands artistes. Cette directive aura pour conséquence le verrouillage de notre patrimoine culturel. Les professeurs de Propriété Intellectuelle, et les analystes économiques indépendants ont tous dit que l'extension du copyright n'était pas une action sensée.

    Le Financial Times a qualifié cette proposition de "disgracieuse" ('disgraceful') dans un éditorial de 2009. L'université de Cambridge (University of Cambridge's Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law) a conclu que "ce serait particulièrement déconseillé pour un décideur, dans le cadre de nos connaissances actuelles, d'étendre la durée du copyright pour les sons"

    Depuis que la directive est passé en 2009, un nouveau parlement a été élu. Cependant, Je suis préoccupé par le fait qu'elle puisse maintenant passer devant le Conseil sans aucun débat. Je vous enjoint par conséquent à signer la requête pour un renvoi en référé appuyé par Christian Engström (des Verts "Greens - European Free Alliance") et de vous opposer à cette proposition.


  5. Pluto:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 05:53 PM

    I am confused, which and what kind of addresses need to be entered in the form. The email addresses of the MEP I'm sending this to?

    btw, dutch translation, for as far as I was able to:

    Dit schrijven is aangaande het voorstel van de Europese Commissie om the termijn voor licentie bescherming van geluidsopnames te verlengen van 50 tot 70 jaar.

    Ik ben zeer bezorgd over de mogelijkheid dat dit voorstel wordt aangenomen. Het economisch bewijs is overweldigend gekant tegen dit voorstel. Bovendien zal slechts een klein aantal artiesten en bedrijven profiteren van deze verlenging; 96% van de opbrengsten zullen terecht komen bij de grote labels en een minderheid van grote artiesten. Het resultaat zal zijn dat een groot gedeelte van ons cultureel erfgoed achter slot en grendel verdwijnt. Vooraanstaande professoren op het gebied van intellectueel eigendom, de 'Gowers Review' van intellectueel eigendom van de overheid van het Verenigd Koninkrijk, en onafhankelijke economische analisten hebben dit voorstel allen onverstandig genoemd.

    De 'Financial Times' heeft dit voorstel schandalig genoemd in een redactioneel artikel uit 2009. Het centrum voor intellectueel eigendom en informatie recht van de Universiteit van Cambridge kwam tot de conclusie dat 'het zeer onverstandig is' voor een verstandige wetgever om, gegeven onze huidige staat van kennis, de licentierechten op audio te verlengen.

    Sinds het voorstel in 2009 is goedgekeurd, is er een nieuw parlement verkozen. Ik ben bezorgd dat deze wetgeving nu door de Europese raad komt zonder een heroverweging of debat. Ik wil daarom op U aandringen om het verzoek voor een 'renewed referral' zoals voorgesteld door euro parlementariër Christian Engström te steunen en tegen dit schadelijke voorstel te stemmen.

    1. Jim Killock:
      Apr 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM

      Add your own address, and in the EU version, select the region, and it will find your MEPs

  6. Jim Killock:
    Apr 13, 2011 at 07:32 PM

    Thank you so much for the translations! We may be able to make language versions of the action :)

  7. matthew brunswick:
    Apr 14, 2011 at 05:14 PM

    To keep as short as possible I wrote to my MEPs, adapting information from boing boing,

    There are currently plans to extend copyright from 50 to 70 years before the European parliament.

    This will do little to benefit artists. 96% of the economic returns will go to the major record labels and top 20% of performers according to a joint academic statement signed by 80 eminent academics, including several Nobel Laureates.

    The UK government's own Gowers Review of Intellectual Property disagreed with extending copyright. The Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge has argued against it as negatively affecting the balance of trade.

  8. @sickkid1972:
    Apr 14, 2011 at 08:43 PM

    I signed the petition and sent my request to the MEP's for my area using the link you provide in the article above, and today I received a reply.
    The reply seems to say that this is a done deal and that there is nothing they are able to do about... or are unwilling to do anything about it.

    E-mail reply text below.
    Thank you for your email, I am replying on behalf of myself and Brian Simpson, as the Labour MEPs for the North West Region.

    the position of the European Parliament on the Commission's proposal to amend Directive 2006/116/EC was adopted on 23 April 2009 in a vote of the full plenary of the Parliament. Full information on the legislative process and texts adopted is available at:


    The Parliament supported the proposal, with certain amendments including a thorough review clause, with 387 votes in favour and only 152 against. This first reading position was confirmed by the Legal Affairs Committee of the newly elected Parliament in September 2009. The legislative process was therefore concluded in the Parliament at first reading and it is now for the Council of Ministers to adopt a position on this proposal.

    With best wishes,

    Arlene McCarthy MEP

  9. Byte:
    Apr 14, 2011 at 11:06 PM


    From the wording it's apparent they try to hide behind the 2009 decision, but they conveniently forget to mention that it's not a done deal as it can be reopened.

    I suggest you e-mail them back and as a voter inform them about their own rules how to reopen this issue (see Christian Engstrom's blog) and also to ask them to first state their own position and second their party's position in this issue.

    To everyone else: would it make sense to send e-mails or letters to newspapers in the various European countries? The only places I see attention for this is on some tech blogs. If you have big consumer advocacy groups, those would be good as well. The last groups are advocacy groups of culture; it's not just the Beatles at stake but any recording, including classical music which would become public domain in Europe.

    1. @sickkid1972:
      Apr 15, 2011 at 12:43 AM

      I shall indeed be formulating an appropriate response to this transparent non-answer.
      Thanks for the input...

  10. Matt Sharpe:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 03:30 PM

    I got a response - it's pretty lengthy. The essence of it was that they are fully behind the idea of extending copyright to 95 years :-(

  11. Peter Bradwell:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 04:10 PM

    @Matt Sharpe - yes, we've heard of one or two similar replies. It might be worth pointing out that the current Directive would extend copyright protection to 70 years, not 95!

    @Byte - that's quite right. If your MEP simply refers to the 2009 decision, it might be worth emphasising that you're asking them to sign a specific request for 'renewed referral', which is something that can lead to a Directive going *back* to the Parliament.

    Thanks for posting your letters here, the replies and for the translations, and for writing to your MEPs. Many thousands of letters have been sent already to MEPs from around the EU. Hopefully this will help them recognise just how strong people's concerns are about this proposal.

  12. Lewis Roberts:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 04:43 PM

    I also received a response suggesting they are more than happy to allow the directive to pass so I replied pointing out the obvious flaws in the argument. As far as I can gather, the lobbyists have had quite some impact on the MEPs and they're all for copyright extension.

    My response:

    Dear Mr Kirkhope,

    Thank you for your response however I'm concerned that my email has not had quite the impact I was hoping for.

    The suggestion that copyright extension will foster innovation in exploitation of copyright works lends heavily towards a hope expressed only by the copyright holders to extend their monetary grasp over an original work for a further twenty years. The innovation of solutions to exploit copyright will be pursued irrespective of the length of the copyright term so I see no substance in that argument. The only benefit is for the large corporations that own the copyrights and who continue to lobby for ever more rights and laws to be passed to protect a business strategy that can no longer survive in a digital age.

    Let us not forget that these copyright works were originally produced with full knowledge of the length of copyright protection available. If the copyright owners failed to fully exploit their copyright in that time, they should be asking themselves why, not asking for an extension. In response to your assertion that extending copyright encourages innovation in exploitation of copyright, I believe it does exactly the opposite and allows the copyright owners to continue to operate an out-of-date business strategy (and delay innovating!) for another twenty years. Why innovate when they can continue with the status quo for another twenty years?

    Just to close, it seems obvious to me that it is clearly easier for copyright owners to lobby for new directives to be passed than innovate in their business area. Why? The Information Age demands a new approach to business: Innovate or die. Copyright owners seem to think that is: Innovate or litigate. Perhaps it's time to change their approach by not allowing this directive to pass?

    Lewis Roberts

  13. Dominic Jackson:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 05:39 PM

    I got a reply from a Tory MEP which was obviously a cut 'n' paste parroting of the Party line. Supporting 95 years because it's essential to encourage labels and artists to invest in internet services etc. Reply as follows, doubt he will enter into a debate:

    Dear Mr Ashworth,

    Thank you for your e-mail reply to my original e-mail however I feel you may have misunderstood what I originally asked for.

    Please would you sign the Request for Referral to Parliament of the proposal for a EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND COUNCIL DIRECTIVE amending Directive 2006/116/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the term of protection of copyright and related rights (COM(2008)0464 – C6-0281/2008 – 2008/0157(COD)).

    This way the proposal to extend copyright terms for sound recordings can have a proper and full debate, unlike in 2009 when it was rushed and subject to extensive lobbying by the record industry. I notice you refer to 95 year terms but the Parliament-passed text only recommended 70 year terms - 20 year extension, not 45 years.

    I am surprised at your stance as I believed the Conservative Party was anti-monopoly and pro-competition. I strongly query your assertion that the economic effects would be beneficial - it has been adequately demonstrated that 96% of the revenue from a term extension will go the record labels and the richest artists.[1] Nothing is stopping the record labels themselves investing in online exploitation of their more recent back catalogue which still has much of its 50 year "related rights" term to run. Some 1960s recordings are soon scheduled to enter the public domain but there are independent labels who would gladly exploit these - otherwise the vast majority of sound recordings, including those which were originally commercially unsuccessful, will remain locked up. Leading IP thinkers have stated their opinion that "If there was a policy designed to suppress social and commercial innovation, retrospective term extension would be your choice."[2]

    Every economic viewpoint I have read states that there is no case for term extension. It only encourages the record labels to continue with the status quo rather than investing in new talent (it is far less commercially risky to keep churning out "Greatest 1960s Hits" CDs than to develop new artists). Please read the evidence posted at http://soundcopyright.eu and see how the debate is massively stacked against term extension. If you or your Party have contrary evidence, please send me a reference to it as I have yet to encounter it.

    Supporting retrospective copyright term extension is politically suicidal. The ordinary voter sees this proposal for what it is - a massive windfall for the big record companies and already-rich artists, paid for by consumers who have to keep paying monopoly prices for music for another generation. Term extension will openly drive consumers to piracy ("Why should I respect your copyrights when you refuse to recognise the limits of the original term you agreed to?") and shatter any remaining respect for copyright law. It is quite obvious that this proposal is now being raised only because the phonographic copyrights on some valuable 1960s recordings will soon expire.

    Please sign the request for renewed referral so that a proper debate may be held. Supposing all unexpired property mortgages were to be retrospectively extended by 20 to 45 years, "because the banks need an incentive to invest in new property" and "the bank managers who signed those mortgages are still alive" - does this seem fair or legitimate?

    Yours sincerely,

    Dominic Jackson

    [1],[2] - refs from original ORG blog post

  14. Dan Wolfe:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 06:14 PM

    Just got a reply from my MEP about this from the email I sent using your form. He also mentioned the extension to 95 years so I started a reply saying that he really ought to look at what it is he's supporting. To follow my own example I had a good read of the PDF you link to in your article and guess what? The proposal does suggest extending the protection to 95 years not 70! The only mentions of 70 years is in regard to writers rights expiring 70 years after death (which is also completely mad).

    I think these sort of campaigns (which I fully support obviously) would probably have more impact if the basic facts were correct. I'm glad I did the check before I replied though! ;-)

    Just starting a new reply taking this into account, just thought it was worth a mention.


  15. Dominic Jackson:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 07:00 PM

    The original proposal was for 95 years but the text passed by the Parliament "compromised" at extending only to 70 years.

  16. Dan Wolfe:
    Apr 15, 2011 at 07:19 PM

    I see! Any chance of a link to the current one? would be helpful to see the exact text and I can't figure out where to start looking!


  17. Palle Raabjerg:
    Apr 18, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    I see. So this is one of those 'compromises' between a fairly reasonable and an extreme position...

    Anyway. I wrote up a danish one myself, and sent it to the danish MEPs. I got a reply from Dan Jørgensen's secretary, stating that lately they have had several hundred enquiries, and that they are doing their best to get an answer to everyone. Which at least indicates he didn't have a form answer ready for this one.

    I have no idea how many of those other enquiries mentioned are on the same issue, but I do hope most people formulate their own e-mails instead of sending off the standard text presented in the form here :)

  18. Palle Raabjerg:
    Apr 18, 2011 at 04:37 PM

    A bit of good news: Positive reply from the Danish social democrats. Christel Schaldemose apparantly speaks for them all on this subject. Which means it is likely that both Christel Schaldemose, Dan Jørgensen, Britta Thomsen and Ole Christensen will be signing.
    Still no answer from any of the other Danish parties, though.

  19. Peter Bradwell:
    Apr 19, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    Hi Dan.

    This link has all the latest on the Directive and the current state of the text: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/file.jsp?id=5667672

    This is the latest text, as far as I'm aware: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=TA&language=EN&reference=P6-TA-2009-0282

    Which has the 70 years 'compromise' in it - this is a summary of the main points: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/oeil/resume.jsp?id=5667672&eventId=1075528&backToCaller=NO&language=en

    Hope this helps - and sorry for the confusion with the link to the '95 years' text!

  20. Barron:
    Apr 29, 2011 at 01:35 PM

    It must be stoped for sure..but i doubt it will.COpyright Lobies are powerful they are supposrting(financing) so much politicians that is almost done when they plan somenthing to do.