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.