Rock Copyrights in Britain Set to Expire

CNN (via Reuters) reported Friday on Britain’s recent debate over whether to extend copyright protection on music from 50 to 95 years. According to the article, the British government is set to let the 50 year limit stand.

What does this mean? It means that the early hits of some still living musicians could become public domain according to UK laws. Early Rolling Stones hits could then be legally bandied about the Internet and recording industry.

The United States’ term for music copyrights is already 95 years.

Andrew Gowers, the man making the British report, wrote in a Sunday Times article that Intellectual Property (IP) is an increasingly important issue in the UK, where IP related industries are growing at twice the rate of other industries.

“…many of our most creative industries — music, film, television — and our biggest investors in research and development, such as the pharmaceutical industry, rely on IP rights to protect their products and ensure that it pays to be creative.”

He goes on:

“Adequate protection of rights is particularly important for IP, as ideas are expensive to produce but very cheap to copy.”

It sounds like Gowers is critical of the role the Web and the Internet have played in the realm of IP, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rather conservative outlook come out of his report when it is released later this week (Announcement of the Project).

This is yet another battle in the war for or against the individual author. In an article on, Ben Vershbow with the Institute for the Future of the Book writes, “The individual author will be needed more than ever as a guide through the info-glutted landscape.” Vershbow says that in the not to distant future, readers will become an asset, and the success of authors will be judged not by how many books they publish but on “the quality and breadth of their networks.”

It may be true that the world has become overwhelmed with raw information in need of a filter, but I have heard this same sort of statement made about librarians. In all likelihood, it is an idyllic hope for future job security, akin to saying: “The world is running on information now, and I am the one who helps process it. So my job is safe.”

Don’t get me wrong. I do not think print is dead or dying. Judging by the number of hours I spend each week in a bookstore or library, I would say that print is thriving. I do think, however, that this sort of concern over IP and the stability of the individual author is a sort of death throe for something else. I think it is the last convulsions of a system that needs a serious refit. The Gowers report, realistically, will not provide Britain with the kind of refit that will work for long. So long as we try to cling hard and fast to the notion of the author and his or her Intellectual Property, our policies are doomed to fail, no matter what side of the Atlantic we live on.


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