Musicology and copyright in sound recordings

The following email has been going around some academic mailing lists, courtesy of Nicholas Cook, director of the AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, but I think the issues it raises are important enough to deserve a wider audience:

Most of you will probably know that the European Commission, prompted by the major record companies, plans to extend copyright on sound recordings from 50 to 95 years, in line with the US. The result in the US has been to make access to the vast majority of the recorded legacy impossible (for details see Unlike the US legislation, the Commission’s proposals include a ‘use it or lose it’ provision, by which if after 50 years sound recordings are not reissued by the rights owner copyright reverts to the performer(s), and if they are not then reissued by the performer(s) copyright lapses–but in its current form the provision appears quite unworkable, and in any case it would not apply to recordings produced from now on.

There is a great deal of coordinated opposition from copyright lawyers and other experts, including some musicological groups, but there is no substitute for people making their views known to their MEPs. If you care about access to the heritage of recorded music, either now or in the future, then please read the following circular from the Open Rights Group.
Nicholas Cook, FBA
Professorial Research Fellow, Royal Holloway, University of London
Director, AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded

—–Original Message—–
The European Parliament has begun preparing its opinion on the European Commission’s flawed proposal to extend the term of copyright protection for sound recordings. MEPs have been appointed to act as rapporteurs, who will guide the committees that will recommend how Parliament should vote. Your MEPs need to know that their voters are concerned and paying attention – get in touch with them to let them know your concerns. To help you do this we’ve prepared a guide to lobbying your MEPs (1) and a briefing pack (2).

Lobbyists for term extension are making the case to MEPs inside the European Parliament right now. But your voice is stronger than any lobbyist. We can’t overstate it: the most important thing you can do to stop term extension is to let your MEPs know your concerns so they an see and hear your side. Be aware also that MEPs can be deluged with information on many topics and appreciate being treated as individuals.If you want to travel to Brussels to meet your MEPs and need help – hit reply. If you have a story or an interest that we should know about – hit reply. Now is the time to speak, so use your voice wisely!

We’ll keep you updated of major developments, but you can track the proposal on the Parliament website (3) and the details of relevant committees and MEP members are also available (4). Currently Legal Affairs (JURI) are leading. Three other committees – Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO); Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE); and Culture and Education (CULT), will also help.


In the meantime the Directive is also being discussed by representatives of Member States in the Council of Ministers. And criticism of the Commission’s proposal is emerging all over Europe.

The world leading Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property Law (5) in Munich, has released a statement concluding that prolonging the term of protection “cannot be justified from any point of view.” (6)


Professor Bernt Hugenholtz, Director of the Institute for Information Law (IViR) in Amsterdam, and one of the Commission’s own advisers, has accused Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of intentionally misleading policy-makers with the proposal (7).


Pekka Gronow, sound archivist, author of “An International History of the Recording Industry”, and adjunct professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Helsinki, has written and concluded that performers benefit very little from the proposed extension (“in most cases the resulting sums will not even cover bank charges”). (8)


And of course, ORG have written to the authorities in the UK, explaining exactly why the proposal makes no sense (9).


The Sound Copyright Campaign=20
Run by the Open Rights Group and EFF

One other link (added by Nicholas Cook): statement from the Centre for
Intellectual Property Policy & Management, University of Bournemouth:




One thought on “Musicology and copyright in sound recordings

  1. As a reformed commercial composer who still makes a small but important part of my income from performance royalties from old works, I have mixed feelings about all this. As long as one excepts the idea of copyright at all, and/or even the idea of personal property, it seems to me the problem doesn’t have to be one of length of term, but maybe one of adjustment to the concept of fair usage (not unlike the “Creative Commons” movement). That way everyone might be able to get what they think they need. I don’t mind the idea of my heirs still receiving a pittance from my work for a while after I am gone, if only to keep my presence remembered (the bastards) 😉 I don’t think I have ever met a creator who wasn’t honored by academic interest in their work. If the corporate lawyers are over the top about all this, it is because a) they are the single most evil of all god’s creatures, and b) copyright owners have just experienced some ten years or more, of absolute destruction wrought at the hands of a generation who found the door to the candy shop open, they are very sensitive and overreact. It might help if those of us whose research, or at least the publication of that research, is hindered by copyright laws could at least admit we have an interest, instead of taking some kind of grand philosophical stance, there might be a chance for a dialogue. Then again, having had to deal with some of those corporate lawyers in the past, a scorched earth policy may well be the only way to go.

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