EU ministers likely to back performer copyright extension today

Out-Law News | 07 Sep 2011 | 2:55 pm | 2 min. read

EU ministers will today vote on whether to approve a change to EU law that would extend copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.

The permanent representatives committee at the EU Council of Ministers is meeting to determine whether it should support a change to EU law, according to a provisional meeting agenda (9-page / 99KB PDF). That change would result in the term of copyright protection for sound recordings increasing from 50 years to 70 years.

The current term is set by an EU Directive on the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights. The Directive harmonises the duration of copyright protection for sound recordings across EU member states.

In 2008 the European Commission proposed that performers' rights should exist for 95 years after the recording – the same time that the writer of the material possesses rights for. However in 2009 the European Parliament only voted to back a Directive that would give performers rights over sound recordings for 70 years.

However, a 'blocking minority' at the Council of Ministers appears to have prevented the new laws from being passed since the Parliament gave the Directive its approval, according to a report by Bournemouth University's Centre for Intellectual Property (IP) and Policy Management.

New EU laws can only be passed following approval by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which is made up of ministers from each EU country. Decisions by ministers are generally determined by 'qualified majority' with each EU member state allocated a certain number of votes that relate to the population of the country.

A qualified majority is said to have been reached if most of the votes are in favour of the voted-on issue providing that at least 255 out of a possible 345 votes are cast. Even then a country can ask to check whether the majority of votes counted represent at least 62% of the EU population. If it does not, the proposal cannot be adopted.

Voting at the Council of Ministers will change from 2014 when only decisions made by at least 15 EU countries representing 65% of the EU population will constitute approval of issues.

"There is no longer a blocking minority against the Commission’s proposal," the Bournemouth University report said.

"The blocking minority had prevented adoption for two years since the first reading vote in the European Parliament on 23 April 2009. Portugal and Denmark have now officially dropped their reservations (even though the Czechs held on). At the last meeting of the Council Working Group a straw poll was conducted. The Member States that currently oppose the proposal are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and The Netherlands. That is five votes short of a blocking minority," the report said.

The report said that the UK is backing the extension of performers' copyrights.

In July Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said that "the Government will continue to support moves in Europe to extend copyright in sound recordings". Vaizey made his comments in a speech at the annual general meeting of the British Phonographic Industry.

In May a Government-commissioned report into IP laws and frameworks said that whilst extending the duration of copyright protection may provide additional incentives, it would not exceed the "likely deadweight loss to the economy" of doing so.

"Despite this, there are frequent proposals to increase term, such as the current proposal to extend protection for sound recordings in Europe from 50 to 70 or even 95 years. The UK Government assessment found it to be economically detrimental. An international study found term extension to have no impact on output," the Digital Opportunity: A Review of Intellectual Property and Growth report (130-page / 1.45MB PDF) said.