Digital Civil Rights in Europe

See the other EDRi-gram news from issue 6.5 – 12 March 2008

Commissioner Charlie McCreevy’s announcement in February 2008 that he proposes to nearly double the term of copyright protection for sound recordings from 50 to 95 years came as a shock to UK digital rights campaigners. Back in 2006, here in the UK, the case against copyright term extension was robustly made – by campaigners such as my organisation, the Open Rights Group, and more importantly, by economists from one of the UK’s leading universities. It led to a firm commitment from our Government that they would never seek to extend copyright term retrospectively.

There is no case for copyright term extension. Term extension would reduce, yet again, the size of the public domain, harming public access to old material and chilling the creation of new works that build upon the past. The only beneficiaries will be the owners of a limited number of valuable back-catalogues – the majors and a very few lucky performers – who will receive windfall gains at the public’s expense and at the expense of future innovators. That the UK government finally recognised this looked like a line in the sand for IP reformists. Professor Lawrence Lessig, whose own gambit to stop copyright term in the US failed despite his having the backing of two Nobel-prize winning economists – called the work of the Open Rights Group “proof that we cynics were wrong”.

So what happened? The UK publication Music Week, the local gazette for the band of musicians, record label bosses and collecting societies who are pushing an extension in term, summed it up well when it observed last week that people need to “keep faith in the lobbying process, which has been ongoing in Europe”. The battle against term extension is fought by unequal sides. Those who are for it are a coherent group of people with something singular and immediate to gain, as well as significant funds to invest in their lobbying efforts. Those who are against term extension – and that should be anyone with an interest in access to the public domain – are a large, disparate mass who will benefit from sensible copyright laws and a healthy public domain in many different ways.

That lobbyists have had their way with McCreevy should be obvious; the proposal to extend term flies in the face of the iVIR study (quoted in last EDRI-gram), a piece of research commissioned by McCreevy’s own Directorate Generale, DG MARKT. But we should not give up. If past experience is anything to go by, it will take two things to expose McCreevy’s mercantilism: evidence that term extension will do little to benefit regular session musicians and other performers, and evidence that Europeans care about this issue. We have the former. And we are gaining the latter.

At the campaign website Soundcopyright.eu, launched in February by the Open Rights Group and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, over 8,000 people have already signed a petition which demands that the EU take account of all stakeholders when devising copyright policy. If you believe that copyright policy should be decided on the basis of evidence, and not on the basis of who lobbies the hardest, please add your voice to theirs.

Sound Copyright – Don’t Let the Record Labels Break Their Promise
http://www.soundcopyright.eu/

Open Rights Group and EFF launch Europe-wide anti-term extension petition (29.02.2008)
http://www.openrightsgroup.org/2008/02/29/open-rights-group-and-eff-la…

EDRi-gram : Extension of the copyright term for performers proposed to the EC (27.02.2008)
http://www.edri.org/edrigram/number6.4/copyright-performers-extension

(Contribution by Becky Hogge – EDRi-member Open Rights Group – UK)

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