U.K. music biz keeps PPL debate alive

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LONDON -- Britain's PPL will continue fighting for an extension in the term of copyright on sound recordings -- and intends to draw Britain's incoming prime minister into the debate.

Speaking onstage at the society's annual general meeting Wednesday in central London, the collecting society's chairman and CEO Fran Nevrkla vowed to remain committed to its campaign to extend the copyright term beyond the current 50 years.

"Can it really be right that not only the written music and lyrics but all the artwork and other images and designs featured on a CD's packaging are protected throughout the life of each creator plus 70 years, whilst the actual recorded performances, which are the main reason for the product being made available in the first place, lose all protection only 50 years after first release?" he asked.

Nevrkla, whose organization represents about 3,500 record companies and 40,000 performers, added: "This cannot be right, and there is not justification for it. So what do we do? We fight on."

The PPL, plus a slew of music trade organizations, has been petitioning for an extension in the current term of copyright, but its calls hit an obstacle in December with the publication of the Treasury-commissioned Gowers Review of intellectual property, which recommended to the U.K. government that no changes be made to the copyright term.

While admitting to being "deeply disappointed" by the conclusions of that report, Nevrkla heaped praise on U.K. House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman John Whittingdale for subsequently breathing new life into the campaign.

Whittingdale's committee recently issued a long-awaited report, which called for the copyright term to be extended to "at least 70 years," and contained a range of recommendations relating to intellectual property.

"The thoroughness, methodical approach and intellectual rigor which shines through this document is in sharp contrast with the results of other similar processes in recent times," Nevrkla said. "Let us hope that the soon-to-be-appointed new British prime minister will listen, too."

U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair will step down June 27, when he will be replaced by current chief financial minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. The government has 60 days from the publication of the May 16 report to respond to the committee's document.

"Our message to our new prime minister will be: Congratulations on your new post, and we are here to help you turn your words into action by showing your support for British musicians, the creative industries and enterprise," Nevrkla said. "By accepting the recommendation of the Culture Select Committee, you will allow our industry to continue to contribute to the creative economy in the upward economic and cultural growth of U.K. Plc."

PPL used the annual meeting, held at the British Museum, to ratify its previously reported financial figures, which saw its best-ever license fee income of £97.9 million ($193 million) in 2006, up 13% from the previous year.

During that period, international income reached £6 million ($11.8 million), double the figure collected in 2005. As recently as five years ago, the society drew no revenue at all from international sources. "Probably over time -- in the next few years -- we will see increases several-fold," Nevrkla said. The potential for oversees income, he added, "was very, very substantial indeed."

PPL has 33 reciprocal agreements with overseas societies, following newly struck pacts with bodies in Bulgaria, Spain and Denmark. Peter Leatham, director of legal and business affairs and right negotiation, said talks on reciprocal agreements for the U.S. would continue in "a focused, determined and collective way," but admitted details would take another two or three years to iron out.

Leatham also told attendees that talks had begun with Google about licensing programming for the Internet giant's user-generated content service YouTube. "We hope to be concluded in the next few weeks," he said.

Guests were treated to a keynote speech from broadcaster and medico Professor Lord Winston and a two-song solo performance by Peter Donegan. Donegan played a rendition of "Cumberland Gap," a work from the repertoire of his father, the late skiffle great Lonnie Donegan. "Cumberland Gap," a 1957 Donegan recording hailed as a U.K. rock 'n' roll landmark, is set to enter into the public domain this year.
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