Victory for Cliff's law

Cliff Richard Cliff Richards' career began in 1958 so some of his music is already out of copyright

Remember the attempt to extend copyright for music beyond the current 50 years?

It became known as the Cliff Richard law, because it promised to make sure the veteran rocker would go on earning money from 60s hits like Living Doll for many years to come.  

Now it looks as though Sir Cliff and his fellow musicians could be on the verge of victory.

In Brussels today a key EU committee voted to approve a directive that would extend music copyright from 50 to 70 years.

Now all that's needed is for the Council of Ministers to give it the nod - it's rare for them to say no - and then member states will be obliged to enshrine the extended copyright in law.

I was under the impression that this was a battle that had been lost years ago, with the UK government dead set against extending copyright.

A quick search turned up a couple of stories from 2006 and 2008 that suggested that was indeed the case.

The Department of Business tells me the government changed tack in 2009 when the EU suggested a modification, so that the new extended copyright term would be 70, not 95, years.

When the coalition came to power last year, the new government reaffirmed Britain's support for the musicians.

This evening a spokesman for the Intellectual Property Office told me: "We support this proposal - it should create a fairer system for performers."

Sir Paul McCartney Sir Paul McCartney and Roger Daltrey have also campaigned for copyright extension

What is surprising about this is that ministers have also approved the findings of the Hargreaves Review on copyright.

Its central message was that the copyright regime should be tidied up, and enforced where possible, but that its reach should not be extended.

All those music industry bodies which have campaigned so long for this are keeping their powder dry tonight, waiting for the Council of Ministers to rubber-stamp the decision before they say anything.

A spokesman at one body sounded pained when I referred to the "Cliff Richard law".

"Think of the hard-up session musicians not Cliff Richard," he told me, claiming that thousands of struggling artists would now be guaranteed a pension.

But expect plenty of outrage from opponents who have argued that copyright extension will only benefit hugely wealthy rock dinosaurs.  

There have been plenty of battles in the last few years between the music industry and the web libertarians.

This one looks like ending with a rare victory for the old rockers.

Update 8 September, 0926: Just to clarify, the copyright extension discussed here refers to music recordings not composition. Composers already enjoy copyright that extends for 70 years after their death - so this extension is about performers.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The artists stand to gain nothing zero zilch. The greedy corporations will be the winners in this not the artists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Once again the struggling, near-bankrupt record companies get the blame for being greedy, and artists are castigated for denying the MP3 generation their "right" to free music!

    The argument that they should have invested the profits in something else is ridiculous. Imagine Sir Cliff as a property tycoon or stock market speculator!

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @Hastings - the first link in the above story suggests it was composers that have had copyright extended to 70 years, but that performers are currently only at 50. The story above isn't clear about whether the EU directive applies to music copyright of composers or performers (though suggests it may be both from the musician references).

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    @Mike Batt, if somebody buys an item knowing that at a pre-defined point in the future, they will be able to re-use it in new ways, why should they suddenly have that freedom taken away from them, just because some greedy fatcats want more money?

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.


    Because I decide to licence it to people, not to recoup the cost all on one go. It can take years to make a decent profit.

    On the pop side of the business, plenty of record companies have gone bust because the cost of albums and tours was more than the royalties and tickets.

    Why don't I have the right to earn money over a period? You dont like it? Don't buy the product.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Those that can do.

    Those that can't, seem to feel 'why should...' will drag things neatly and shared profitably down to their level with little effort.

    These days, they seem the more indulged.

    Nice to find there can still be exceptions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    @9.Hastings - I agree (and know) that the vast majority of the people who make music don't make that much.

    You still make that £8 though don't you. If all of a sudden your work became popular you'd make much more.

    But again why should anyone make 1 record and expect to live off it for a lifetime?

    If it happens then great, but it shouldn't be law that it has to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.


    Shows how little you know! I still get royalties from music I wrote 20 years ago. I get about £8 per year.

    The PRS has 80,000 members - the huge majority of us do not get enough royalties to live on even though we are full time composers.

    Just because McCartney gets a fortune does not mean the other 90% of us make a lot of money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    @5.MIke Batt - I'd love to do a few months work, then live for the next 50-70 years not having to work again because I get a steady stream of income from that few months work.

    It's high time the music (and entertainment as a whole) business joined the real world, where people don't work for a few months a year, then sit back and watch the money roll in for infinity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Okay - major correction time!

    Music copyright was changed in the UK from 50 to 70 years in 1988 to bring us in line with the US and Major EU countries.

    I think the summit has been about getting other countries into line and to iron out some oddities. Also, some proposed an extension to 95 years, but many were against this.

    As for reducing it - if you want free music - learn to compose it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @5. MIke Batt
    The point is they should invest the income over the intervening 50 years to provide for their old age like normal people. After all the builder of your house doesn't turn up and demand a fee from you every time you walk in the front door or simply because he wants to retire and hasn't thought finance it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Why shouldn't someone who creates something earn from it? A house doesn't have to be donated to the National Trust after 50 years. Most people in the music biz aren't rich - they depend on this income from maybe a small hit years ago, or a lifetime playing. At 70, they need the money just as it got cut off. Congrats and thanks to those who fought for this. Shame on the stingy opponents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    If anything it should have been revised down not up. Goalpost moving at its best, why don't we just go the whole hog and extend it to say.. 2 bazillion years?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Already fifty years is excessive. The stench of greedy music companies fighting to compensate their failure to understand the impact of the web pervades the air.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I thought this was resolved long ago.
    Anyway, if Great Britain's answer to Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard has been among the country's most popular singers since the 1950s & even the arrival of the Beatles in the 1960s could not eclipse him, why didn't he sock something away for his older years, like a retirement savings plan?
    (He's a "sir" - Sir Harold Webb (his real name).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    I'm no expert but expecting a tune from the 60's to provide a pension is short sighted. If you have numerous/smash tunes like Sir Cliff you'll already be fine. If not, a far more sensible route would be to save some of your earnings in the intervening years from the tune (or other work) for your twilight years... like the rest of us non-celebrity mortals...


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