Sir Cliff Richard's victory: an extra 20 years of copyright protection for sound recordings is only weeks away

It's been dubbed by the media as "Cliff Richard's Law", and now he and his fellow musicians are about to see the change to copyright duration in sound recordings that they pushed for finally coming into force. 

From 1 November 2013, The Copyright and Duration of Rights in Performances Regulations 2013 will come into force, implementing the provisions of Directive 2011/77/EU which extends the term of copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.  The change comes after years of political wrangling and will mean that performers will be entitled to receive income for an additional 20 years.  Additional measures have also been included to improve performers' revenue.

Extension from 50 to 70 years

One song can contain a number of different rights, for example copyright in both the music score and in the lyrics, both of which last for 70 years after the death of the author.  In contrast, copyright in the actual sound recording, however, and the duration of a performers' rights in the recording only last for 50 years.  The new Directive extends both of these terms from 50 years to 70 years, therefore narrowing the gap.

While some critics have argued that many musicians will see little benefit, a study by the European Commission ("EC") has found that extension of this term will give average performers additional income ranging from €150 to €2,000 per year, mostly from airplay royalties.  Although these sums will be fairly insignificant to many of the big names in the music industry, they will be considerable for many other musicians, particularly session musicians.  The EC also points out that many performers start their career in their 20s and that with life expectancy increasing, a performer who lives into his 80s and beyond would not be able to continue to benefit from the recording at what the EC points out to be a particularly vulnerable time of life.

It should be noted, however, that the extension will only apply to sound recordings that are created after 1 November, or that are still in copyright protection on 31 October 2013.  It will not therefore bring a sound recording back into copyright where this protection has already expired after the 50 years.

Additional remuneration measures

  • 20% fund:  A performer who has transferred his rights to a producer or record company in return for a one off payment will be paid an annual supplementary payment after the 50th year of copyright protection.  This sum will be paid out of a fund into which record companies must pay 20% of the revenue they earn during the extended period.
  • "Use it or lose it":  If a record company fails to market a sound recording during the extended period, assigned rights in the recording may revert back to the performer.
  • A "clean slate" provision:  This prevents producers from making any deductions from any contractual royalties due to performers during the extended term.

What does this mean for you?

  • Companies dealing with sound recordings and others in the music business need to be careful to comply with the  additional remuneration measures and ensure that they update their records in relation to the expiry of copyright in sound recordings they deal with/propose to deal with.
  • If you're a performer, you are likely to see a number of benefits and it is important that you are aware of these to ensure you receive the benefit from them.
  • The EC has stressed that for those of us just buying the CDs or downloading the music, the price shouldn't go up, as studies have shown that the price of sound recordings is no lower for those out of copyright.


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