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Music Copyright

Volume 460: debated on Monday 21 May 2007

I hold regular discussions with the music industry about a range of issues, including copyright, in conjunction with Ministers from the Department of Trade and Industry.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not mind if I congratulate Wasps and Leicester on their sensational final yesterday.

Given the Gowers report on copyright and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s report on the subject, which are at separate ends of the spectrum, is a White Paper on the matter due this side of Christmas?

First, I congratulate the Select Committee on the excellent report it produced last week. In the course of considering new media, it also examined copyright. It is a complex issue, which has been examined in detail, not least in the Gowers report. Although we will obviously spend the next few weeks considering the Select Committee’s recommendations, we are not yet persuaded that extending copyright for performers is in their best interests.

I thank the Under-Secretary for his remarks about the Select Committee report, which unanimously recommended an extension in the term of copyright to 70 years. When he considers the matter, will he bear it in mind that the beneficiaries of a copyright extension will not only be friends of the Prime Minister, such as Cliff Richard and the Bee Gees, but thousands of musicians? Perhaps he will especially bear in mind the remarks of Fast Eddie Clarke of Motörhead, who wrote to me and said:

“You may think that as a rock musician I should not expect to live until 80. I can assure you I did not think this was going to happen but... My royalties will be my pension and something to pass on to my family, so to learn that they will be stripped away before my 80th birthday is frankly unacceptable.”

I take the hon. Gentleman’s points, and we are concerned about the central matter, which is whether extending copyright would benefit musicians and performers, whom I personally regard as equivalent to any other artists involved.

Let me make two observations. The Select Committee report was not entirely fair to Gowers, who considered more than the economics of the case. He also examined fairness. It might be worth reflecting again on the Gowers report and noting that extending copyright from 50 to 70 years or longer would rarely benefit the musicians. Indeed, the British Phonographic Institute’s work through PricewaterhouseCoopers shows that probably less than 1 per cent. would go to those musicians. More significantly, the trade balance would be in deficit because the artists in the United States would benefit from changes to copyright law here, and that would have a disproportionate effect on our artists elsewhere, with their great international reputations.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the position under current law is unfair and illogical? The people involved in creating a recording—composers, sleeve note designers, even those who write the sleeve notes—benefit from a term of life plus 70, while the musicians benefit from a term of only 50 years. That cannot be justified. If my hon. Friend agrees, will he take discussions forward with the Department of Trade and Industry so that we can lead the way in Europe and get this changed?

My hon. Friend makes an important contribution to the debate. I will continue the dialogue with the industry, which I believe really matters. The issue is fairness, which is why my hon. Friend makes a moral argument, but I think that we should be fair to the Gowers report. The critical issue is the contractual arrangements between record companies and artists. For any extended term, many of those rights are signed away with the record companies. My hon. Friend should look again at Gowers, especially the conclusion in box 4.2:

“If the purpose of extension is to increase revenue to artists… it seems that a more sensible starting point would be to review the contractual arrangements for the percentages artists receive.”

The Minister is absolutely right that a blanket extension would benefit super-rich stars, record companies and people who are already dead, but does he agree that there is a very serious issue for large numbers of backing musicians and people such as Eddie Clarke, who is my constituent? Does he further agree that the best solution would be a restricted extension on a use-or-lose basis for people who individually apply?

The hon. Gentleman also makes an important contribution and I am certainly prepared to consider it. A comparison is often made with the United States, where the extension of term is to 95 years, yet within the US, 70 per cent. of eating establishments and 45 per cent. of shops, for example, pay no digital rights whatever. Performers get royalties only on digital radio. If we were to borrow the US system and incorporate it into the UK—if that were possible within the competence of the European Union—it would mean a loss to our artists of more than $25 million a year.