Bob Dylan and the Beatles have both been in the Copyright news recently. This time it’s not about infringement wars but rather copyright expiry.
Under European Copyright law, the copyright period in a sound recording lasts 50 years which means at this point, i.e. sound recordings made prior to 1963, they then enter the public domain and can be reproduced without owing a stitch to the owner of the sound recording. For the year of 1962, this has recently happened to the Beatle’s ‘Love me do’ in which the copyright in the recorded track lapsed at the start of 2013. The same is true of Dylan’s 1962 first album, inspirationally titled ‘Bob Dylan,’ but back to Bob later. This means that these recordings are now in the public domain and you can freely re-issue them as a vinyl flexidisc taped to the side of a packet of cornflakes, if you so wish, without having to pay anything to the owner of the copyright of the recording (notably record companies). Flexi-what? (look it up kids!)
The copyright in the actual written song however still in the case of ‘Love me do’ belongs to Lennon and McCartney and lasts the life of the author + 70 years after the author’s death.
Yes you are reading correctly – 2 versions of copyright pertain: copyright in the written song and copyright in the recorded or published (printed) version.
In the not too distant past, UK 1960s pop icon Sir Cliff Richard (look him up kids!) helped champion the move to extend the duration of recorded copyright - arguing the fact that many artists and session musicians (which still happened to be alive and hadn’t overdosed/drowned in swimming pools/other) still made a living from the royalties.
The EU, in its infinite and wonderful wisdom, therefore decided at the end of 2012 to extend the period of copyright in recorded sound by 20 years to the threshold of 70 years (this period is 95 years in the US). This whole EU extended copyright stuff, however, now needs to be ratified by the EU council (zzzz….) and is expected to be signed into being around November 2013. So whilst recorded tracks prior to 1963 have already fallen into the public domain in the EU - year on year post this, recorded tracks will now get a stay of execution for another 20 years. So the 1976 classic ‘don’t fear the reaper’ can rest in peace until 2046.
Right, so what does this all mean? Well, pretty much that just some aging rock musicians and record companies will still get some cash through their retirement from continued record sales. But actually, and probably most importantly, record companies will still be able to use a % of the proceeds of their back catalogue to fund new artists. For stuff which has already fallen into the public domain – this is now open to being freely released by any label.
Oh yes back to Dylan...