Clearly, the idea of extending the life of copyright in recordings beyond the already excessive fifty years is an unpopular one with all but the few who will make big money out of the deal; now that the government has decided to ignore the findings of its own Gowers report, innovation, universities and skills secretary John Denham is trying a new approach to persuade us that the shrinking of public domain is a good thing:
A spokeswoman for Denham said yesterday: "The aim is to give the lesser-known artists and the sessional musicians a much bigger share of any increase of new royalties after 50 years. Many Motown singers, for example, who are now out of copyright protection, got pretty raw deals during the 1960s and they could be the first people to gain from any change in the law."
Right. So record companies ripped off artists some decades ago, and the response is not to get the record companies to make good on their bad faith, but instead to change the law to force all recorded product to remain out of the public domain for anything up to another forty-five years?
That's crazy, surely? It's like reacting to a greedy idiot destroying two banks and god knows how many lives by giving him a sixteen million pound pension pot drawn from funds the bank doesn't have, to take an unlikely-sounding example.
Denham is fighting Europe to allow nations to implement any copyright extension locally, choosing how to divvy up the cash:
Denham wants the money from royalties to be split 70/30 in favour of the artist after the first 50 years. This would mean, in most cases, that much more money would go to the artist rather than the record company. In the case of some megastars who already command as much 90%, however, it would mean a cut in income.
He also wants a break for artists at 50 years. This will allow them, if their record company will not re-release their tracks, to be able to launch their own CD label or get another company to do it for them - and keep all the royalties.
This does, at least, seem to be the government conceding that the driving claim of those who would extend copyright - that it benefits poor, starving artists - is hogwash; it's a pity the response is "let's try and see if we can fiddle to change the distribution a little bit" rather than "... so let's not reduce the concept of public domain any further".