Aging rockers set to lose Brit copyrights

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LONDON -- When British finance minister Gordon Brown stands up to make his pre-budget speech next week, aging rockers Cliff Richard, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones might do well to tune in.

Not normally the stuff of rock 'n' roll, Wednesday's address looks set to reject music industry calls for an extension of copyright on sound recordings to 95 years from 50, meaning veteran acts' early hits could soon be free for all to use.

The government commissioned Andrew Gowers to review all areas of intellectual property law, including challenges thrown up by the consumption of music and film over the Internet, and he is seen as unlikely to recommend a copyright extension.

His conclusions are expected to be published next week as part of the chancellor's annual pre-budget report.

Official sources say the Labour government appears more swayed by the right of consumers to access music cheaply, or, if it is 50 years old, essentially for free, than by old performers seeking protection.

Commentators also point out that the 50-year sound recording cover is standard in most European countries, and Britain would be unlikely to want to stand alone by extending it.

Richard has led the way in highlighting the issue, with his first hit "Move It!," from 1958, perilously close to the cut off point for copyright protection.

More significantly for record labels who do a lucrative trade in remastering and repackaging old hits, The Beatles catalogue could be up for grabs from 2012 and 2013, including early hits like "Love Me Do" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

Then come The Shadows and The Rolling Stones, to name but a few.

In 2005, Elvis Presley's record label re-released his British No. 1 hits over consecutive weeks to cash in ahead of the deadline.

David Arnold, who composed the scores for four James Bond movies, argues that the 50-year copyright limit discriminates against performers and record companies.

"I don't think anyone involved in music's creation can understand how, after a certain amount of time, it stops being yours and starts being everyone else's," he told Reuters.

"We need to do the groundwork so there is an element of protection for artists and record companies who take a risk with an artist," he added. "That's if we value the entertainment industry and value music in our society."

Richard has said he would like to see copyright protection for singers and record labels extended, pointing out that songwriters enjoy protection for their lifetime plus 70 years.

In the United States, copyright protection is 95 years.

Industry bodies like the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) argue that the failure to extend protection on old hits will jeopardize investment in future talent.

Emma Pike, chief executive of the British Music Rights group, sides with the BPI, but says the Gowers Review raises broader issues for music and film in the 21st century.

"Sales of legitimate music downloads are growing exponentially ... but the overall picture globally is still one of decline," she said.

"There is a statistic that 80% (of Internet music download traffic) is illegal and 20% legal, so we have an enormous amount of work to do and the music industry simply can't do it on its own."
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