EU Copyright Extension: Boon or Censorship?


Just in case copyright law was not confusing enough, a European Union committee has voted to tack another 20 years onto the 50 already allowed recordings in Europe. Tech Fruit credits the move to “a serious amount of lobbying from the entertainment industry and high profile ageing rockers like Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney.”

The EU Council of Ministers still has to pass on this, but if they give the “Cliff Richard Law” the nod, the creative reworking of artistic output will be pushed back two decades. Already the U.S. keeps works out of the public domain for 95 years after their date of publication. Canada extends copyright for 50 years after the creator’s death.

In theory, those long copyright protections encourage creativity by giving a work’s originator plenty of time to milk every possible penny from it. That much is good. Artists have enough of a struggle without having to see their works appear under someone else’s name, with no compensation offered or permission asked.

However, ask any artist not on the millionaire’s list how much he or she benefits from copyright extensions that keep on adding dollars to the coffers of the big labels. Being able to hang onto a lucrative copyright well after the death of the artists keeps money trickling, and sometimes rolling in, but does little to encourage new works or support new artists. And creativity is, after all, the point of offering copyright protection. Can anyone really argue that Patty and Mildred Hill, who wrote “Happy Birthday to You” in 1893 are in any way benefiting from the copyright that won’t expire in the U.S. until 2030 (2016 in the EU)?

A fascinating exploration of the whole messy ball of wax is RiP: A Remix Manifesto.  The filmmakers point out that a small handful of Hollywood studios and major record labels control the lion’s share of the film and music market. They argue “the past always tries to control the future” and “to build free societies you need to limit control of the past.” The film ends with the example of Brazil, where loosening of copyright restrictions has encouraged youth in the favelas to create a new culture by remixing the old.

Most works fall off the marketing wagon within a few years, or even months, after publication. Lengthy copyright protection offers little to them. The primary beneficiaries are a handful of wealthy artists and companies.

The first copyright law gave book publishers 14 years to profit from their investment. Whether that is sufficient is a worthy topic for ongoing discussion, but granting copyright well beyond the life of the creators it was intended to protect is questionable practice at best, censorship at worst.

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Photo from Ana Bastida via Flickr Creative Commons


Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago

It is astonishing how many people seem to believe that they have a right to take that which belongs to another without compensating the owner. If you don't want to pay the higher prices on music, literature, etc. that are caused by the artist getting a portion of that due to his copyright then here's a simple solution - don't buy those things. You can continue to exist without them.

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Marsha S.
Grover Syck6 years ago

It should be cut to 40 years.
The US copy right law should also be cut to 40 years.

Patents should also be cut back. I forget what it is now, but it is substantial, and should be cut back to not more than 20 years.

Phil w.
Phil w6 years ago

copyright on should expire with the artist.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

or, perhaps famaily could inheret it for a while. I think the copyright can extend to be property of the "estate". if living familys can hold on to it. and "*gasp* make money off of it"

unless only starving artists should benifit. not their publisher, or record lable. as far as I know some artists might let you use their songs for things with credit. but the record label will smack you around.

Richard S.
Past Member 6 years ago

I'm a little puzzled by some of this article, and by some of the comments. The proposed change to the law in the EU extends copyright from 50 to 70 years from original publication and is being driven in part by Cliff Richard and Sir Paul McCartney because they already have material that has run out of copyright under the 50 year rule. I wholeheartedly agree that they should continue to be remunerated for the use of their creative output.
Why "Happy Birthday..." has 137 years of copyright in the US, 123 in Europe, I have no idea. Rather ridiculous, or so it seems to me. The copyright window needs to be set to reasonably encompass the lifetime of the writer, and no more. Frankly, I'd also like to see the law make copyright non-transferable, but I can't see the recording industry standing for that.

Will W.
Will Will6 years ago

Extending copyright for decades after being produced is just another measure to help the big guy (not the little guy or common man)-like bank bailouts, military spending, the AMA, and the list goes on with people and organization who rig the system for their benefit, because they are able to bribe the government to do their bidding.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Penny C.
penny C6 years ago

Good job on the knitted man in accompaning picture.

Chris Ray
Chris R6 years ago

Thanks Cathryn!~