Tuesday 15 January 2013, 12:19 | By

MMF and FAC speak up for featured artists in copyright extension consultation

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The Music Managers Forum and Featured Artists Coalition have welcomed the Intellectual Property Office’s previously reported consultation on the extension of the sound recording copyright term, though say they are disappointed that an automatic right for featured artists to renegotiate contract terms at 50 years is not on the agenda.

An extension of the copyright term enjoyed by sound recordings from the current 50 to 70 years was approved by the European Union in 2011. The UK now has until November to incorporate the extension into its copyright system.

The IPO consultation isn’t about the arguments for or against the extension, but will instead consider how a number of measures designed to ensure featured artists and session musicians, as well as corporate copyright owners, benefit from the extra twenty years will work. For the UK government in particular, the reason for supporting term extension was the lesser known musicians of limited means who earn a living from royalties they are due from 1960s recordings.

The most important such measure is the ‘use it or lose it’ clause, that will give artists the right, at 50 years, to take control of their sound recordings if the label which owns them is failing to make them available to the public. Artists would then be able to distribute the recordings themselves, ensuring them any royalties they are due. Quite how that system will work is one of the things the IPO needs to work out.

The MMF and FAC had hoped for more rights for artists to kick in at 50 years than those set out in the IPO’s consultation document. To that end, the two bodies will – as part of its submission to the consultation process – call for a minimum artist royalty to be set by the labels, paid to any featured artist earning a royalty from a fifty year old record contract, that would overrule any specific royalty terms in that heritage agreement.

Commenting on the IPO’s recently published consultation document yesterday, the two trade bodies told reporters: “The plans, which took four years to navigate EC and UK Law, signify a big boost for session musicians, a massive windfall for large record labels but a mixed bag for featured artists. Controversially the right to renegotiate contracts after 50 years has been deemed unnecessary for inclusion by the IPO. [Even though] this extension was meant to benefit featured artists in their old age and the omission will leave countless creative artists earning pennies from the sales of their work whilst record labels reap large windfall profits”.

While welcoming some of the proposals in the IPO’s document, which stem from the aforementioned European Directive, and which include the use it or lose it clause, a ‘clean slate provision’ on label deductions and a fund for session musicians, the MMF and FAC add: “We are also calling upon rights holders to introduce minimum royalties (without any deductions) for featured artists in the extended copyright term. It could mean the change in share of income of a 79p download moving from 1p for the featured artist to 9.4p whilst a record company income would fall from 46p to 37.6p”.

Commenting on the copyright term extension in general, and his organisation’s commitment to securing an artist-friendly framework for it, MMF Chair Brian Message told CMU: “To be clear we are not looking to further enrich artists who have become worldwide megastars, and who have had the means to renegotiate their contracts over the years. We are talking about artists who in their teens made some of the classic music of the 60s, who have influenced generations since and who need some income during the last years of their lives”.

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