The British government is being heavily lobbied by the recording companies to
extend the copyright term for recordings there from the present 50 years to
as much as 95, and make it retroactive. That would pretty much shut down the
UK's historic reissue industry. There have been a number of pro and con
letters in the British papers. Cliff Richard (the UK's Sonny Bono?) has been making
the rounds on behalf of the record companies urging extension, so he can keep
getting royalties from his 1950s hits.
ARSC member David Patmore was asked by CHARM, a consortium of English
universities interested in record preservation and study, to write a position paper
on the subject for submission to Andrew Gowers, who is studying the matter for
the Chancellor of the Exchequer. After supplying David with some information,
I decided to write a letter myself and, to my surprise, the Times of London
printed it last Thursday(abridged), with mention of ARSC. See the link below.
Following that is the full letter as submitted.
I encourage others on the list to get involved before this is decided! Here
are some addresses David supplied me:
[log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask] (The Financial Times)
[log in to unmask]
They all ask for any correspondence to be accompanied by the sender's name,
postal address and daytime telephone number.
Copyright & Fair Use Committee
(my thanks to committee member Dick Spottswood for his input.)
In a message dated 5/11/2006 5:09:39 AM Eastern Standard Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
Hi Tim - the letter is in today's issue of The Times as a leading item on the
letters page, p. 18.
It reads very powerfully - the only cut has been the names of the record
It's also on the web at
I have two copies of this issue and will bring them to Seattle - look forward
to seeing you there.
Very best wishes and many thanks again for your greatly valued support -
To the Editor:
As Britons consider the appeals of the large record companies to lengthen the
copyright term for recordings from its present 50 years to as much as 95, I
hope they will consider–and learn about–the disastrous cultural consequences
such long periods of exclusivity have had in the United States. This matter is
currently under review by Mr. Andrew Gowers for the Chancellor of the
According to a recent study rights holders in the U.S. have made available
only 10% of the most historic pre-1955 recordings they control, either
themselves or by licensing to others. Moreover this figure is heavily weighted toward
more recent periods (the 1940s and 1950s); as one goes further back the
percentage dwindles to almost nothing. What the record companies really want is the
small fraction of older recordings that can still make them lots of money.
The rest they bury.
Ethnic and minority musics are particularly hard hit, since they are not big
money makers. According to the study most of the historic blues recordings
available in the U.S. came from overseas labels (including the U.K.) or illegal
issues, not the "rights holders." While doing research for a book on the
earliest (pre-1920) black recording artists I was startled to learn than most of
those recordings are still controlled by modern corporations, who have made
available fewer than one percent of them. The book, appropriately, is called
Britain is home to some of the best and most respected historic reissue
labels in the world, including Document and Pearl. They are where most Americans
hear their own recorded history, since it is buried by copyright law in their
own country. This industry will be shut down, or severely curtailed, if the
major labels get their way, and don't count on the majors to take their place.
Sir Cliff Richard says it is "only fair" that he should reap royalties from
his earliest recordings for a century or so. But most artists, especially
early ones, had to sign away their rights just to get recorded. Long copyright
terms mainly benefit recording companies, not long-ago artists or their heirs.
And ultimately the ability to live off the past will make British companies
less, not more, competitive. Why take the risks needed to develop the next
Beatles when you can milk the old ones indefinitely?
Copyright is supposed to balance the rights of creators with those of history
and society. In recent years there has been a backlash against overly long
copyright terms in the U.S., as the public realizes it was sold out for the
special interests. I hope the British public does not allow itself to be
Chair, Copyright & Fair Use Committee, Association for Recorded Sound
Greenwich, CT USA