With the latest Christmas No.1 just around the corner, we are considering the recent extension of copyright for sound recordings and the extra mince pies this extension will put on performers, such as that of Sir Cliff Richard, for many Christmases to come.
Duration of Copyright Protection

The duration of copyright protection varies between the types of copyright works.  The duration of copyright protection (excluding sound recordings, which we will come to later), in the UK (and the European Economic Area), are:

1)      in a “literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work” copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died;

2)      in a film copyright expires 70 years after the end of the year in which the death occurs of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film;

3)      in a broadcast, copyright expires 50 years from the end of the year of making of the broadcast; and

4)      in a published edition, copyright expires 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

Until recently, the protection for “sound recordings and performers rights in sound recordings” lasted for 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made.  However, since 1 November 2013, performers now benefit from the extension of copyright from 50 years to 70 years from the end of the year in which it was made, for sound recordings and performers rights in the same.  That’s a whole extra 20 years of protection!

The most notable champion of the recent change was Sir Cliff, who had insisted that this right be extended because many of his classic sound recordings were shortly due to pass the 50 year threshold. As a result of the recent change, Sir Cliff will now continue to receive royalties for the sound recordings of his 50s and 60s hits, such as “Living Doll” and “Please Don’t Tease” into the 2020s and 30s. It also means sound recordings of “The Millenium Prayer” will continue to be protected under copyright until 2070!

Use it or Lose it

Another feature of the recent changes, which came from Europe, is that performers will also benefit from an implied ‘use it or lose it’ clause, which allows performers to claim back their performance rights in sound recordings if they are not being used commercially by their record company or producer.

This clause means that the rights in the recordings will revert to the performer if, for example, the record company or producer is no longer marketing the recording after 50 years. Therefore, performers who have perhaps sold their sound recording for a handsome fee long ago, or obtained a share of the original royalties in their hit, will go on to benefit again years later when sales have naturally died down. For performers like Sir Cliff, this may mean reaping the benefits all over again.

This clause will likely only benefit those individuals who have had extremely successful careers and already benefited from 50 years of royalties.  In response, we have also seen producers and record companies re-release Bob Dylan and Motown material only a matter of weeks before the 50 year period came to an end, in order to avoid the rights in those sound recordings reverting back to the original performers.

In light of the above, it seems that Sir Cliff (and performers like him) may choose to make the most of their previous efforts of creativity and make sure that their old hits are made available again in the form of greatest hits albums.