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Sound Recordings (Copyright)

Volume 480: debated on Monday 6 October 2008

1. What his policy is on the extension of copyright duration and terms affecting sound recordings; and if he will make a statement. (224370)

Policy responsibility for intellectual property rests with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. However, given my Department’s responsibility for the music industry, these are issues in which we have a close interest. The Government are considering the European Commission proposal currently on the table in Brussels. Discussions are still continuing at a European level.

A band named Pendragon in my constituency tells me that when it recently produced a new DVD it sold 50 copies in the first week, but in that same week 3,000 copies were illegally downloaded. Does the Secretary of State not agree that he ought now to implement the recommendation made two years ago in the Gowers report that would take some steps towards stamping out illegal downloading, which is driving smaller bands and small labels in particular to the wall, and is it not also about time that he accepted the Select Committee recommendation that copyright should be extended to 90 years?

There are two issues in that supplementary question, the first of which is about illegal downloading. The hon. Gentleman will have seen that in the summer the Government facilitated a memorandum of understanding signed between the film and music industries and the major internet service providers, with general agreement to achieving a significant reduction in illegal downloading within two to three years. He is right to raise this issue, because it goes right to the heart of the success of the British music industry in the long term; there are still far too many tracks downloaded illegally, and we have to take firm action. I hope that he agrees that the Government have changed their tone on this issue and are signalling far more urgency.

The question of term involves complicated issues, and while the Commission has put forward its proposals, I think it is fair to say that no consensus has yet emerged around them. Here, our Select Committee proposed the idea of term extensions to 70 years, so there are different ideas and we need to see if we can find a way through and a compromise position. Again, I am looking very closely at all the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.

The Secretary of State has consistently said that he wants to do something big for the music industry. Well, here is his chance. He talks about consensus; all the stakeholders in the music industry, from the labels to the musicians, collection agencies and publishers, want an end to this unique and historic discrimination against musicians. The draft directive is on the table in Brussels. All the Secretary of State has to do is say yes and support it. Why will he not do that?

The memorandum that I mentioned a few moments ago is something significant for the music industry, because illegal downloading is seriously threatening its future. On the question of copyright term, I think it is fair to say that there is not quite the unanimity that the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest. There is still some debate about whether the Commission’s proposals are the right ones. They take us a step further forward and they raise the question of benefits to performers, which is important, and which, from my Department’s perspective, I am keen to pursue. However, I do not think this is quite as easy as he seems to make out.

May I say what a pleasure it is to see a young Evertonian at the Dispatch Box, as opposed to an old Etonian? On this subject, does my right hon. Friend know whether Mr. Steven Wonder, the author of “A man with a plan”, is still receiving his loyalties at present? Finally, may I say that there is a great deal of confusion, and that while we seek illumination we seem to find caliginosity everywhere? Will the Secretary of State please undertake at some stage in the future to clarify this issue?

Well, I could do with some clarification myself, I think, after that question, but my hon. Friend is right that there is a need for clarification. These are complicated issues, which we are looking at very carefully. They raise strong feelings in the music industry, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned. We are looking at them very carefully and we will come to a UK Government position very soon.

If I write to the Secretary of State, will he look at the issue of copyright extension as it affects the British Film Institute, which, as he knows, has the largest and most important film archive in the world? Will he, furthermore, congratulate the BFI on its 75th anniversary, and in particular “Screenonline” for schools, which has brought schools, through digital media, to so many of our educational institutions?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, and indeed I will congratulate the BFI. The scheme that he mentions is very worthy and valuable. Illegal downloading affects both the music industry and the film industry, although it has affected the music industry first, and the memorandum we signed affects both music and film. He also talked about copyright extension. These are issues that potentially have an impact on more than just the music industry, and we have to give careful consideration to rewarding people who have made content that is still very much in demand around the world while striking a fair balance for consumers who wish to get access to that content for the lowest possible price. These are complicated judgments. We have to come to the right decision, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have the interests of the film and music industries very much at the forefront of my mind.