Copyright protection for the sound recordings of some of rock'n'roll's best-loved tracks is just about to expire. For internet downloaders, this could be music to their ears, says brand and legal guru Ardi Kolah.
The original sound recordings of 'Rock Around the Clock' by Bill Haley and The Comets, 'Maybellene' by Chuck Berry, 'Tutti-Frutti' by Little Richard and 'I Hear You Knocking' by Smiley Lewis are just a few recordings in the Hall of Fame that are just about to leave copyright protection.
Come January 1 2005, any recordings made on or before December 31 1954 won't be protected under UK copyright laws. These recordings will then be deemed to have entered the public domain and record companies, artists and performers involved in their creation won't be able to earn royalties from this work.
The reason is that unlike the work of authors, songwriters and composers whose work is protected by life plus 70 years, sound recordings are only protected for 50 years under the Copyright, Designs and Patent Act 1988.
So it'll be left to the estate of a deceased performer/writer to seek royalties for their music up to 70 years after the death of the artist concerned.
This leaves the music industry standing on the sidelines as a helpless spectator unable to earn royalties from the original sound recordings by these artists (whether alive or dead) as the 50-years time limit expires.
Although music fans are unlikely to shed a tear for the music industry, spare a thought for the thousands of backing groups and session musicians who also won't get a penny more on the expiration of copyright in the sound recording.
By the end of 2005, other classic recordings such as Elvis Presley's That's All Right won't be protected. And back catalogues of early recordings by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones will also lose copyright protection in 2013.
Music industry to lobby for a change in the law
As you can imagine, this is causing some consternation within the music industry, already under assault by illegal downloading of music.
Peter Jamieson, chairman of the British Phonographic Industry argues: "The British record industry -- which invests more in new British musical talent than any other -- has less time to earn from its work than other UK creative industries... recording copyright suffers from unfair discrimination at the hands of copyright law."
Jeremy Summers, founder of SK Sport and Entertainment and one of the foremost practitioners in the management of intellectual property rights in the world, adds:
"It's another blow to the recorded music industry, although this one has been a long time coming. Following the relatively recent increase in the period of protection for musical and literary copyright (from 50 to 70 years from the death of the author) which would benefit songwriters, this does seem to be an anomaly," observes Summers.
It's unlikely that the music industry is to give up its profit streams in recorded music without a fight and it's expected to lobby hard for a change in the copyright laws to bring the UK in line with the US -- which extends copyright protection in recordings to 95 years.
Without such a change in the law, argues Jamieson, the music industry could fragment even further, leading to a haemorrhaging of talent in the UK in search of stronger legal protections in the US.
And that could signal the death of rock'n'roll as we know it.
Ardi Kolah appears on the Chartered Institute of Marketing's global top 50 list of leading marketing thinkers. He is author of 'Essential Law for Marketers' (Butterworth Heinemann, £25.00). Read the review of the book on Brand Republic and order your copy online here.
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