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Victory for Cliff's law

Rory Cellan-Jones
Technology correspondent
@BBCRoryCJon Twitter

image captionCliff 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."

image copyrightAP
image captionSir 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.