Letter to my Member of European Parliament : Proposed Copyright Extension

Thursday 19 March 2009

Dear Baroness Ludford, (Update: This was sent to all eleven of my MEPs)

I am writing with reference to the European Parliament's vote on copyright extension for sound recordings, due to take place on March 23rd.

As you know, this is a complex issue, but I shall try my best to keep this short, I know you must be busy.

Amongst the justification for this particular extension to the term of copyrights, is the idea that artists need more protection, particularly towards the end of their lives when their income from royalties might dry up as their copyrights expire.

This is misleading in the extreme. Under the current 50 year term, an artist recording at age 25 will be protected until age 75, and any artist who records throughout their lifetime will be protected until many decades beyond their death.

There is no need whatsoever to extend the term in order to benefit or incentivise artists.

In fact, as everyone knows, artists in practice almost never end up owning the copyrights to their own works - the labels do. While artists and labels are aligned in the desire to sell as many records as possible, they are in direct opposition when it comes to dividing up the proceeds. The majority of the income from sales goes to the labels, because they have such an overwhelmingly dominant position of power in the relationship. No label is reliant upon any individual artist, while every artist is very much dependant on their label, to whom they are tied by contract for many years. Strengthening copyright only strengthens the position of the copyright owner, ie. the labels, at the expense of what little leverage the artist may have. Extending the term of copyright only enhances the labels' income, not the artists.

It is not the role of copyright to be a protectionist measure to support labels who are having to adjust their business models in these times of great change. The last thing we need to do is to construct laws which chain Europe's creative industries to last-century modes of operation, at precisely a time when the current tumult will reveal as yet undreamed of exciting new ways of doing business.

As you know, copyright is intended to stimulate the creation of new creative works, by enabling the artist to earn an income from their own creations.

There exists significant evidence to suggest that stronger copyright may actually inhibit the production of creative work, by allowing monopoly-level profits to be reaped from ever smaller amounts of creative output. The composer Verdi is notable for suddenly decreasing his creative output when copyright laws over music were introduced in 18th century Italy - his personal correspondence indicates that he simply had to work less because he was earning more from his earlier compositions. (note that he retained copyright over his own work.)

Similarly, there is the very vital and oft-overlooked influence of the creative environment which our society fosters. It could well be that freedom to borrow and build upon inspiration from other artists is a vital input to the engines of creativity, and to encourage fledgling artists. By way of anecdotal evidence I say it would not be very controversial to suggest that the last great English composer of the Baroque period was Handel, who coincidentally died around the same year copyright over music was introduced in England. After that, there is a dearth of truly top-class composers from England, right up until the 20th century. Meanwhile Germany, too preocupied with invasions and reforging of the nation to introduce copyright laws over music, went on to produced greats like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, in a succession of creative gear-shifts which formed the romance and classical eras, all done with no copyright over music. *1

I apologise if I have been unable to express my points very succinctly, but I hope I have made given you some reasons to consider rejecting this extension of the copyright term, or at least to consider assessing it in the light of evidence over its theorised effects, rather than the deliberately misleading suppositions put forward by those representing the special interests who stand to directly benefit from the proposal at the expense of artists and of the rest of society.

With all my gratitude and respect for the work you and your fellow MEPs have done and will continue to do to resolve these issues,

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Hartley

*1 See this February 2009 Harvard paper which notes:

"An attempt to determine the impact of legal changes on entry into composing is inconclusive. The paper shows, however, that a golden age of musical composition nevertheless occurred in nations that lackedcopyright protection for musical works."

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1336802 The paper is summarised persuasively in an online news article here: