The European Parliament and the Term Extension Directive

Those of you who are involved with digital rights campaigning and live in Europe may be aware that the European Parliament are currently mulling over extending the pan-European term of copyright from 50 to 95 years. The US recently increased their term of copyright (at least partially to “bring them in line” with Europe), and now Europe are being asked to increase theirs (at least partially to “bring them in line” with the USA). Copyright extension keeps music and composition and created works away from the public: I won’t rehash the arguments in favour of the public domain and against an ever-increasing term of copyright; most people reading this are likely to have heard them before, and if you have not then I strongly recommend Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture, a book (and free-to-download e-book) which treats the subject in exhaustive detail. Suffice to say that I’m convinced by these arguments. Anyway, if you’re in Europe and you agree with me on this rather than the music industry, you can write to your MEP. (In the UK, you can do this through WriteToThem.) My letter is below; it takes various ideas from Open Rights Group writings and Gary Fleming’s similar letter. Note: don’t just copy mine (or anyone else’s). Your MEPs need to hear from you, their constituent, in your own words.


Dear [my MEPs], I am writing to you all today because you represent me in the European Parliament. As such, I would like to bring to your attention my concern (a concern shared by many others) over the proposed extensions to European Copyright law (the Term Extension Directive). You and your fellow MEPs are being asked to nearly double the term of copyright afforded to sound recordings. Industry lobbyists suggest that extending copyright term will help increase the welfare of performers and session musicians. But the Term Extension Directive, which will be voted on by the Legal Affairs Committee in a few weeks’ time, will do no such thing. Instead it will hand millions of euros over to the world’s four major record labels, money that will come direct from the pockets of European consumers. The Commission’s own Impact Statement states that increased sales revenues from the extension of copyright terms will be divided approximately 90% to the record labels and 9% to the top fifth of performers, leaving only one-onehundredth of these financial benefits to go to the remaining 80% of musicians. This one-onehundredth actually means that the projected gains for the vast majority of performers are meagre: the highest-earning of these performers can expect to receive 27 euros a year. Twenty-six euros is not likely to significantly benefit the welfare of a performer or session musician! The UK has shown itself to be a leader in intellectual property policy; the Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, conducted at the request of the UK government, specifically recommended against increasing the term of copyright. It may amuse you to note that the USA extended their length of copyright terms “to bring them in line with Europe”; you and your MEP colleagues are now being asked to extend European copyright, in part to “bring us in line” with the USA! Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, who advises the European Commission on intellectual property issues, wrote an open letter in which he called the proposed extension “a deliberate attempt on behalf of the Commission to mislead Europe’s Parliament”. Andrew Gowers himself has spoken out in an article in the Financial Times in December against this “out of tune” extension. If you honestly believe that almost doubling the term of copyright in the EU and ensuring that the majority of the money thus gained goes to record labels is a good thing, then I can respect your views. However, if you think that you’re being asked to exercise your power as our elected representatives when you may not have been given the most germane facts to the case at hand, then I’ll suggest here some further resources you may find useful. Consumer advocates have produced a video, “How copyright term extension in Sound Recordings actually works”, which is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kijON_XODUk for you to watch, and I’d urge you to so watch it. A joint statement, signed by the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations (EBLIDA), 42 consumer rights organisations across Europe, and and IFLA, the umbrella organisation representing over 650,000 library and information professionals worldwide, was sent to MEPs who sit on the committees that will decide the flawed Term Extension Directive’s future; you can read the statement at http://www.openrightsgroup.org/2009/01/21/consumers-citizens-and-information-professionals-around-the-world-unite-to-condemn-copyright-extension/ and see more detail. I would urge you to vote to reject the Term Extension Directive, as per Amendment 15 of the ITRE opinion (David Hammerstein). I’m happy to discuss this further if you would like to. Best regards, Stuart Langridge

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