European Music Copyright article

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European Music Copyright article

#1 Post by Nate Dogg » Fri Jan 03, 2003 7:56 am

Read this today, found it informative, thought I would share. No commentary from me, just something for everybody to read if they want.

Music dispute takes root as copyrights die
1950s recordings are beginning to enter the public domain in Europe
By Anthony Tommasini


Friday, January 3, 2003

European copyright protection is expiring on a collector's trove of 1950s jazz, opera and early rock 'n' roll albums, forcing major American record companies to consider deals with bootleg labels and demand new customs barriers.

Already reeling from a stagnant economy and the illegal but widespread downloading of copyrighted music from the Internet, the recording companies will now face a perfectly legal influx of European recordings of popular works.

Copyright protection lasts 50 years in European Union countries, compared with 95 years in the United States, even if the recordings were originally made and released in America. So recordings made in the early to mid-1950s -- by figures such as Maria Callas, Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald -- are entering the public domain in Europe, opening the way for any European recording company to release albums that had been owned exclusively by particular labels.

Although the distribution of such albums would be limited to Europe in theory, record store chains and specialty outlets in the United States routinely stock foreign imports.

Expiring copyrights could mean much cheaper recordings for music lovers, but they do not bode well for major record companies. (These copyrights apply to only the recordings, not the music recorded.) The expected crush of material entering the public domain has already sent one big company, EMI Classics, into a shotgun marriage with a label that it had long tried to shut down to protect its lucrative Callas discography. The influx also has the American record industry talking about erecting a customs barrier.

"The import of those products would be an act of piracy," said Neil Turkewitz, the executive vice president international of the Recording Industry Association of America, which has advocated for copyright protections. "The industry is regretful that these absolutely piratical products are being released."

The industry association is trying to persuade EU countries to extend copyright terms. Meanwhile, Turkewitz said, "we will try to get these products blocked," arguing that customs agents "have the authority to seize these European recordings even in the absence of an injunction brought by the copyright owners."

'50's quantum leap

Expiring copyrights already have led to voluminous European reissues of historically important artists such as violinist Jascha Heifetz and jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. But the recordings of the '50s are viewed as being of another order.

That was the era when recording techniques took a quantum leap and when the long-playing record came into its own and was embraced by the public. Even monaural records from the period, before stereophonic sound, are prized today by classical and jazz audiophiles. Artistically, the decade coincided with the golden years of opera legends such as Renata Tebaldi; the birth of rock heralded by recordings of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Presley; and enormous outbursts of creativity from seminal jazz figures such as Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. "That decade of recording transformed music and how the public consumes music," Turkewitz said.

That was also the great decade of Callas, who was under exclusive contract to EMI. The looming expiration of copyright on EMI's Callas selections was what finally compelled that London-based company to form an alliance with a former enemy.

EMI Classics (formerly Angel Records) has been the official keeper of the Callas discography since 1953, when Callas, the Greek soprano, was 29 and made her first recordings for the company. Over the years, EMI has contended with independent labels that released unauthorized Callas recordings, mostly taken from pirated live performances. In the late 1990s, the bane of EMI's existence was a Milan-based independent called Diva, the largest producer of the unofficial recordings.

But last year, with the support of the Callas estate in Athens, EMI made a deal with Diva, which two years ago reconstituted itself as Marcal Records (for Maria Callas) and moved its offices to the Virgin Islands for tax purposes. In November, EMI released a new batch of Callas recordings, including four complete live operas and five CDs of live concerts and rehearsals. The source for these was Marcal.

The strategy would seem to be, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Richard Lyttelton, president of classics and jazz for EMI Recorded Music, concedes as much. "For many years EMI was in opposition to Diva," Lyttelton said in a recent interview from London. "But there has been an irresistible pull for us to work together." With this deal, Lyttelton said, EMI "wanted to try to legitimize the market" for these live Callas recordings "rather than try to suppress it."

The company hopes that its unconventional deal with Diva may prove to be an indirect way to maintain dominance in the Callas market, which has been crucial to EMI's artistic legacy and its bottom line. Callas recordings, most of them made between 1953 and 1960, account for about 5 percent of sales for EMI's classical division in a typical year, more than for any artist on that division's current roster, said Mark Forlow, vice president of EMI Classics.

Boon for public

Consumer advocates and champions of access to creative products see many copyright protections as too lengthy, unfair to the public and ultimately stifling to creativity. "When works enter the public domain, the consequence is extraordinary variety and lower costs," said Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School. Lessig appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court in October to challenge a 1998 law that extended copyright protection by 20 years. A decision could come from the court as early as this month.

The Callas recordings, for example, "will be taken and put into a million different content spheres," he said. "They will be encouraged and sold in ways not done now."

This is all the more true because of the Internet, Lessig added. Once copyrighted works enter the public domain, he said, "a wide range of copies -- high quality and low -- will quickly be available, always and for free." Unlike many record companies, he considers this beneficial. "People ask, `How could you ever compete with free?' " he said. "Think Perrier or Poland Spring (bottled water)."

According to Turkewitz, it is illegal under American copyright law to download material protected in the United States regardless of the legal status of that material in another country.

Still, the computer file-sharing programs that are cropping up everywhere make this law difficult to enforce.

Defenders of extended copyright terms, like Turkewitz, argue that, if anything, American laws are still too lax and that the European laws are woefully inadequate.

"The public sees icons like Mickey Mouse and thinks that the companies must by now have made their money," he said. But, he added, nine out of 10 sound recordings lose money.

"Very few materials wind up generating the revenues that sustain an entire system," Turkewitz said. "The amount of money put back into production by the record companies is enormous."

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#2 Post by Yakov » Thu Jan 29, 2004 11:47 am