Page last updated at 05:05 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Dame Vera loses out on old songs

By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Dame Vera Lynn
Many of Dame Vera's songs are free of copyright

Dame Vera Lynn is reportedly outraged over the inclusion, without her consent, of her famous song, The White Cliffs of Dover, on a CD sold to raise funds for the far-right British National Party (BNP).

But the 91-year-old former forces' sweetheart - who is said to be consulting her lawyers - is unlikely to win any legal battle against the BNP.

This is because, like many other older musicians, she has lost the rights over any material she recorded more than 50 years ago.

Now that may change, as a directive currently working its way through the European parliament will, if passed and then approved by the Council of Ministers, extend performers' copyright beyond the current limit.

The rules aim to extend performers' copyright to up to 95 years after songs were recorded.

It would mean that performers, or their heirs, and their record companies would be paid every time their old recordings - which would be copyright-free under current rules - were broadcast.

There is nothing to stop a creative person using an old recording as part of their work - as long as they do not release it
Record industry source

Downloading old songs would also come at a price - with recording companies likely to get the lion's share of any money to be made.

The rules would not be retrospective, and would apply only to songs about to slip out of copyright.

But the appetite for change is being partially driven by the prospect of huge amounts of popular material from the 1960s - such as Beatles songs - becoming royalty-free over the next few years.

Supporters - including Dame Vera and Sir Cliff Richard - say it is unfair long-standing musicians lose rights over their own material in their lifetimes.

They say it denies them income which they honestly earned.

But critics say the new rules will "stifle creativity" and that it is the record companies, not the artists who will benefit most.

Showbusiness lawyer Nigel Angel - who represents Dame Vera - said he had "nothing to add" on the reported row between his client and the BNP.

But he confirmed that other older musicians he represented were concerned at losing out on royalty income in their later years.

"Some of them have no pensions and need this money," he said. "You are either gifted or good at business. It's rare to be both."

Lonnie Donegan - My Old Man's A Dustman
Everly Brothers - Cathy's Clown
Eddie Cochrane - Three Steps To Heaven
Johnny Kidd and The Pirates - Shakin' All Over
Shadows - Apache
Ricky Valence - Tell Laura I Love Her
Roy Orbison - Only The Lonely
Elvis Presley - It's Now Or Never

Jonathan Morrish of PPL - which represents the rights of 38,000 performers and their record companies - said "millions" of songs would be lifted into copyright if the rules were changed.

"About 90% of our performers earn less that 15,000 a year, and even a few hundred pounds extra would mean an awful lot to them."

Negotiations are ongoing about precisely how long performers' copyright should last.

A few countries - like the Netherlands - have opposed any change to current rules.

The record industry favours 95 years, but UK ministers say this period "goes beyond" what is necessary to protect performers' interests.

CD cover
The CD being sold by the BNP is also available from many other outlets

Intellectual property minister David Lammy confirmed that performers "should be protected throughout their lifetime."

A European Parliament source confirmed that a compromise 70-year extension was currently being discussed.

Opponents of copyright extension say any benefits accruing to older performers are outweighed by the "stifling of creativity".

Professor Lionel Bently, of Cambridge University's Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law, said extending copyright risked putting thousands of recordings - free to use under current rules - out of the reach of other artists and fans.

"For instance, it means that someone who wants to put up a website about, for example, the history of jazz will now have to seek permission and pay for the recordings," he said.

"It probably would not be worth their while."

Artists who wanted to use part of an old recording as part of a new work would be affected, he added.

And he estimated consumers and broadcasters would pay about 2bn extra for music and other recordings if copyright was extended to 95 years.

The Beatles
The Beatles back catalogue is worth many millions of pounds

Critics also accuse the recording industry of backing copyright extension because it is they, rather than the performers, who will benefit most.

Jim Killock, of the Open Rights Group, said research had shown that an estimated 80% of of extra money earned by copyright extension would go to recording companies, rather than artists.

"Extension won't help incentivise creativity or aid our artists," he added.

Critics also say the extension will lead to many older songs languishing unheard in record companies' back catalogues and unheard - a prediction record companies dispute.

They argue that copyright extension will encourage firms to digitise and release old songs - because there is money to be made from them.

An industry source told the BBC that record companies were determined to lobby for a 95-year copyright extension, arguing it would "harmonise" Europe with the US.

Said the source: "The 'creativity' argument is based on ignorance.

"There is nothing to stop a creative person using an old recording as part of their work - as long as they do not release it.

"If they do want to release it - and perhaps make money from it themselves - then they need to seek permission from the originator and pay them a fair price."

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