EC seeks to lengthen copyright terms

Recorded performance c'right would go from 50 to 95 years

LONDON -- The European Commission on Wednesday formally proposed an extension in the term of copyright for recorded performances from 50 to 95 years, rewarding the tens of thousands of British artists and the trade bodies which have lobbied intensively for new measures.

Europe's internal market and services commissioner Charlie McCreevy stepped up as a crusader for artists' rights when he pledged in February to unanimously back industry calls for an extension in the term. At the time, he said his desire was to remove performers' status as the "poor cousins of the music business."

On Wednesday, the Irishman was in the thick of it again, helping push forward the commission's draft proposal, a crucial component to a pairing of new initiatives adopted in the copyright field. "I am committed to concentrate all necessary efforts to ensure that performers have a decent income and that there will be a European-based music industry in the years to come," McCreevy said.

A raft of industry bodies applauded the EC's intention of support.

"We welcome these extremely positive developments," said Fran Nevrkla, chairman and CEO of rights organizations PPL & VPL, and a tireless campaigner for an extension in the term. "The issue of copyright term extension is long overdue but finally the draft proposals recognize the critical and hitherto missing elements of natural justice and fairness both for performers as well as the companies who invest in the talent."

Cable Europe welcomed the ruling but demanded a new system that ensures swift and efficient clearing of copyright. "This would stimulate trade in content to the benefit of both music authors and cable operators," the group said.

The decision also was welcomed by Pan-European television broadcaster RTL Group, which initiated the commission investigation in 2000 when it complained that it was too difficult to obtain a license from a German collecting society, Gema, to broadcast across several countries. "It has always been our goal to ensure that broadcasters gain access to a multiterritory one-stop shop for the worldwide music repertoire," RTL deputy general counsel Christian Hauptmann said.

In a parallel development, the commission has also adopted a Green Paper on copyright in the knowledge economy, with which Brussels intends to foster a structured debate on the long-term future of copyright policy.

The Green Paper, Nevrkla noted, "acknowledges that in a fast changing world technology will often outpace legislation but, again, the principle of fair compensation for performers and record companies is of paramount importance and must be recognized."

The Hollywood Reporter's Leo Cendrowicz in Brussels contributed to this report.