Open Letter re. Proposed Copyright Term Extension for Sound Recordings

MARCH 24, 2009

Yesterday (Monday) The Times published an open letter signed by many of the leading UK academics concerned with the issue of copyright term extension.

The letter, of which I was a signatory, is focused on the change in the UK government’s position (from one of opposition to a term extension to, it appears, one of allowing an extension “perhaps to 70 years”). However, it is noteworthy that this is only one in a long line of well-nigh universal opposition among scholars to this proposal to extend copyright term.

For example, last April a joint letter was sent to the Commission signed by more than 30 of the most eminent European (and a few US) economists who have worked on intellectual property issues (including several Nobel prize winners, the Presidents of the EEA and RES, etc). The letter made very clear that term extension was considered to be a serious mistake (you can find a cached copy of this letter online here). More recently – only two weeks ago – the main European centres of IP law issued a statement (addendum) reiterating their concerns and calling for a rejection of the current proposal.

Despite this universal opposition from IP experts the Commission put forward a proposal last July to extend term from 50 to 95 years (retrospectively as well as prospectively). That proposal is now in the final stages of its consideration by the European Parliament and Council. We can only hope that they will understand the basic point that an extension of the form proposed must inevitably to more harm than good to the welfare of the EU and should therefore be opposed.

The Letter

Dear Minister,

Open Letter re. Proposed Copyright Term Extension for Sound Recordings

We are writing because of the sudden, and unexplained, change of Government position in relation to copyright term extension for sound recordings.

In 2006, the Government received the recommendations of an independent and comprehensive review of intellectual property policy, commissioned by the then Chancellor Gordon Brown. The review, led by Andrew Gowers (a former editor of the Financial Times) took “an evidence-based approach to its policy analysis”, supplementing a formal call for evidence with commissioned external expertise.

The review examined several extension options, including the increase to 70 years, and explicitly rejected extension as being a bad deal for the UK in cultural and economic terms. The Government, led by the Treasury which was then headed by Gordon Brown, clearly supported this view.

What then occasions a sudden volte-face two years later and only a few weeks after statements from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) indicating support for the original decision? We are not aware of any new evidence that has come to light, and the only independent study available since then, that of Professor Hugenholtz at the University of Amsterdam, has also been highly critical of extension.

There has been some talk of ‘moral arguments’ for extension but it is hard to discern a compelling ‘moral’ case for a proposal whose prime effect is to benefit major label shareholders and a few, already highly successful, artists while imposing significantly greater costs on new creators, the general listening public and the custodians of our cultural heritage.

As Gowers concluded, and the Government has until now consistently reaffirmed, policy-making in this area should be evidence-based and designed to promote the broader welfare of society as a whole. Policies that appear to reflect nothing more than lobbying will only perpetuate the “marked lack of public legitimacy” which the Gowers report lamented — and discourage those who wish to contribute constructively to future Government policy-making in these areas. We therefore call on the Government to present any evidence that has led to this change of policy.

Yours Sincerely,

Professor Lionel Bently, and Dr Rufus Pollock, Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law, University of Cambridge

Professor Martin Kretschmer, and Professor Ruth Towse, Centre for Intellectual Property Policy & Management, Bournemouth University

Professor Nicholas Cook, AHRC Research Centre for the History and Analysis of Recorded Music, Royal Holloway, University of London

Professor P.A. David, Emeritus Professor of Economics and Economic History, University of Oxford

Professor Graeme Dinwoodie, Chair in Intellectual Property Law, Queen Mary College, University of London

Professor Johanna Gibson, Director Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, Queen Mary College, University of London

Professor John Kay, Chair, British Academy Copyright Review

Professor Paul Klemperer, Edgeworth Professor of Economics, University of Oxford

Professor Hector MacQueen, and Professor Charlotte Waelde, SCRIPT/AHRC Centre Intellectual Property & Technology Law, University of Edinburgh

Professor David M Newbery, Professor of Economics, University of Cambridge

Dr Mark Percival, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, Chair, International Association for the Study of Popular Music (UK/IRL)

Dr Martin Cloonan, Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow, ex-Chair, International Association for the Study of Popular Music (UK/IRL)

Professor Danny Quah, Professor of Economics, London School of Economics

Professor David Vaver, former Reuters Professor of IP and IP Law and Director of the Intellectual Property Research Centre, University of Oxford

Richard Chesser, Chair, Trade and Copyright Committee, International Association of Music Librarians (UK/IRL)