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Gowers attacks Government plan to extend copyright for performers

The Government plans to extend the term of copyright for performers from 50 years to "something like 70 years," according to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham. That proposal was criticised today as "silly and out of touch" by former FT editor Andrew Gowers.

In a speech to the trade body UK Music last week, Burnham said: "There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime."

He announced that he has been working with Innovation Secretary John Denham on revising the term of copyright for performers "to consider the arguments for an extension of copyright term for performers from the current 50 years."

"An extension to match more closely a performer’s expected lifetime, perhaps something like 70 years, for example, given that most people make their best work in their 20s and 30s," said Burnham.

Gowers was commissioned by HM Treasury at the end of 2005 to produce recommendations on intellectual property law reform. His findings were published in December 2006. Some of his recommendations have since become law.

The term of copyright protection for performers was among the issues investigated by Gowers and his team. Currently composers have copyright protection for life plus 70 years, whereas performers and producers only have rights for 50 years. Some groups had argued for an extension to 70 years in the interests of fairness but Gowers recommended leaving the term unchanged.

Gowers told OUT-LAW last year that he even considered shortening the term to less than 50 years.

"I could have made a case for reducing it based on the economic arguments," he said.

"We certainly considered it, and if you look at the report that came from the academics that we commissioned to examine the arguments and examine the evidence they also argued very robustly that 50 years could be arguably more than enough," said Gowers.

A report commissioned by the European Commission also recommended that copyright terms should remain unchanged, and in July 2007, the Government suggested that no changes would be made.

"Taking account of the findings of [the Gowers and Commission] reports, which carefully considered the impact on the economy as a while, and without further substantive evidence to the contrary, it does not seem appropriate for the Government to press the Commission for action at this stage," said a report by the Department of Media, Culture and Sport.

Writing in the Financial Times today, Gowers attacked Burnham's "moral case" for a introducing lifetime extension.

"You might just as well say sportspeople have a moral case to a pension at 30," he wrote. "All the respectable research shows that copyright extension has high costs to the public and negligible benefits to the creative community."

Gowers also criticised a recent proposal from the European Commission to extend the term even further, notwithstanding the recommendation in its own expert report. Internal markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has proposed a Directive that would give performers rights in recordings for 95 years.

He said that Burnham's and the Commission's proposals will create "a windfall for a few music companies (for example EMI) with some valuable recordings (for example The Beatles) that are about to go off copyright." He said that local radio stations and businesses that play music will suffer increased fees without today's struggling performers seeing any benefit now.

Burnham has asked the music industry "to come back with good, workable ideas as to how a proposal on copyright extension might be framed that directly and predominantly benefits performers – both session and featured musicians."

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