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Copyright Term for Performers and Producers

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the period of time over which royalties are payable to performers and producers of recorded material; and for connected purposes.

Having met Lonnie Donegan’s widow, Sharon, and their son Peter last week, it was suggested to me that I should begin the debate by reminding hon. Members of the words of “Cumberland Gap”, which was at the top of the hit parade in 1957 for five weeks. It runs:

“Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Gap,

15 miles to the Cumberland Gap.”

It was suggested that the second line should be changed to, “50 years to the copyright gap”. Uniquely, we have a position whereby people who record and produce music, which is a single creative act—often not repeated, despite the number of times people try to re-record the same tune—suffer a disproportionate imposition. After 50 years, their music can be taken, put on another CD or included in another collection, sold around the world, often with the revival selling more than the original, with nothing being paid to the recording artist, the producer, the band or the individual’s family or estate.

We are not talking about millionaire pop stars. I compliment Sharon Donegan, who opened the books to us. When Lonnie Donegan died aged 71 in 2002, his total estate amounted to £82,000. His income, which also meant that of his wife and children, ran to £30,000 to £40,000 a year from his royalties in a good year. We are talking not about millionaires, but about working musicians. In fact, the Musicians Union has done a detailed analysis and found that the average income from royalties for people who work in the music industry—even someone who may have been well known in their time—is about £15,000 a year, which is not a great deal.

This debate is significant now because it is 50 years since many of the original rock and roll tunes were released. Lonnie Donegan recorded “Rock Island Line” in January 1957—my preference over “Cumberland Gap”—but his family has received no money for it. Tommy Steele recorded “Singing the Blues” and had a hit with it. As a primary school pupil, when I went out for my Halloween, as they called it in Scotland, I had to give a performance to get my treat. It was not like it was in America—where it was trick or treat, but if they did not get a treat they smashed the windows or something like that. We had to sing and I learned “Singing the Blues” for my little treat because it was easier to sing than others.

The late Adam Faith recorded, in the same year, “What do you Want?”. I think the line was, “What do you want if you don’t want money?” Well, what we want—the people who are supporting this Bill and those who signed the early-day motion, which now has 52 signatures—is equality, fairness and justice for those recording artists and producers. It is not just people such as Adam Faith, Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan who are affected. Lonnie Donegan’s band—Denny Wright, John Nicholls and Mickey Ashman—do not get anything like the amount of money that they should. Indeed, they get only a paltry sum compared with the main recording artists. Their company, Pye Records—which found and cultivated them, advanced their careers and recorded the music—also lose out. We want equality, and the Bill is based on common sense.

On a CD, or an LP as it used to be, the composer, the lyricist and even, believe it not, the photographer and the artwork designer enjoy copyright not just for 70 years, but for 70 years after their deaths. We are not asking for that sort of equality. We would settle for the same situation as that in the USA, where copyright is paid for 95 years. There are many sensible reasons for that, one being that it supports the musicians.

As I said, 90 per cent. of musicians are not millionaires—they earn about £15,000 a year from their royalties. In the UK alone, 7,000 musicians will lose their rights to any payment for the recordings in the next 10 years. Some of them are very well known. In 1961-62 the Beatles came on the scene, but in four or five years’ time many of their hits will stop being eligible for royalty payments. People may well say that that is fine because the Beatles are millionaires and can afford it, but that is not true of many of the people who recorded the strings in the studios, for example, or other recording artists. Indeed, whoever played the drums instead of Ringo Starr on the Beatles early records—it is often said that he did not, in fact, play on them—receives only a pittance, and those records will soon cease to be eligible for royalties.

The creative economy of this country is in serious danger. People are now twice as incentivised to record and release a record in America because the right to copyright for the company and the artists applies for 95 years. That makes it twice as intelligent, so to speak, to go to the USA to release a record than anywhere in the EU. That is why 40,000 musicians and 3,500 record companies signed a Phonographic Performance Ltd petition to improve the copyright terms in the UK to the same level as those in the USA. We have already lost some of our creative industry to America because of the mass culture, but our unique musical culture still rests in the independent record labels and is still to be harvested. We should not allow it to be taken from us.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study concluded, strangely enough, that irrespective of whether a recording is in or out of copyright, it has no impact on the price of the recording. It makes no difference whether people are making a cheap record or a more expensive first release, as the price of the recording is no different. There are massive disparities, of course, in the price that will be paid for the second releases and the compilations, which are not the unique set, as things are taken from here and there and the best parts are often missed out.

We are trying to get the Government on side, which is why we want Parliament to show its support for the Bill. If Parliament supports it, the Government will, hopefully, have a stronger arm when they go to the EU. The matter will be decided in the EU and our group will go to Brussels to argue the case with Commissioner Charles McCreevy on 27 June. There is much to say, but much has already been said, particularly about the mistake in the Gowers report on intellectual property. It treated this unique creative effort the same way as if someone had invented a chemical that would have a shelf life and then something new would be invented to take its place.

As a jazz lover, I know that it is possible to hear two unique versions of the same song. There is the version of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that has been stolen by the fans on the terraces, but if we listen to Nina Simone singing it as a blues song, we realise that the same music with a different time frame and different singer is a unique experience. I think that Gowers missed that point, because a song cannot be replaced by someone recording it later. My particular favourite recordings of the Bruch and Mendelssohn minor key symphonies are by someone called Grumiaux, a Belgian who recorded in the 1950s. I have three or four versions, but none of them compares with that. That is the uniqueness that we are talking about, which should be paid for, for at least the lifetime and beyond of the recording artist.

Debates took place in the House on 17 May 2006, when the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) participated, and on 10 March 2007, when the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) took part. I direct anyone who wants to know why they should support my Bill to those two debates, which developed the theme more fully.

The Bill is not an attack on those who say that music should be cheap and accessible to everyone to download on the internet. It is not about that, as we want that too, but we also want the money to go back into the pockets of the recording artists, producers and companies. We want the companies to be incentivised to record and release music in the EU and to spend more money looking for talent in the UK and the EU. If the Bill goes through and we persuade the EU to move forward on it, we would want certain conditions to be attached.

What we are saying is that the copyright gap should be filled. We want the Bill passed and Parliament to tell the Minister to go to Europe to argue for fairness and equality on behalf of the creative industry of this country. It is crucial to argue for fairness in respect of these unique UK recordings of 50 years ago and also for those in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Michael Connarty, Mr. Bob Blizzard, Peter Luff, John Robertson, Nigel Griffiths, Derek Conway, Mr. Tom Clarke, Bob Russell, Alan Keen, Rosemary McKenna, John Hemming and Pete Wishart.

Copyright Term for Performers and Producers

Michael Connarty accordingly presented a Bill to extend the period of time over which royalties are payable to performers and producers of recorded material; and for connected purposes: And the same was read First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 101].