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SNP MP’s bill helps to reignite UK copyright term debate

test 11 March 2008

UK: The second reading of Scottish National Party MP Peter Wishart’s bill to extend the duration of copyright in sound recordings and of performers’ rights took place recently amidst increasing signs that the government is now willing to look again at some key aspects of copyright law. The call to extend protection beyond 50 years was previously rejected by Andrew Gowers in his highly controversial report of December 2006, writes David Davies.

However, in the wake of EC Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McGreevy’s proposals to extend copyright term to 95 years, the Private Members’ Bill devised by Wishart (a former keyboard player with Runrig and now the SNP member for Perth and North Perthshire) and urging a similar extension of term has received significantly more attention than originally expected. The growing level of interest around the Copyright in Sound Recordings and Performers’ Rights (Term Extension) Bill was crystallised at a packed official launch event at the House of Commons attended by leading industry executives, artists and a number of high-profile MPs, including Kevin Brennan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Children, Young People and Families).

Whatever the eventual fortune of Wishart’s bill, it has undoubtedly helped to reignite the copyright debate in the UK and, along with McGreevy’s proposals, pave the way for a fresh analysis at the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). As culture secretary Andy Burnham told Music Week: “I personally welcome this debate. I’ve got an open mind about it. I can see the merit in what Charlie McGreevy is proposing_ I think what I am saying is I’m not digging in behind (Gowers), we are not digging in behind that position. I come in with an open mind about it.”

“The importance of Wishart’s bill in assisting the UK government’s acceptance of and implementation of what comes out of Charlie McGreevy’s initiative at the EU is undoubted, I think,” record producer and Music Producers’ Guild (MPG) founder Robin Millar tells PSN-e. “The weakness of individual governments always weakens the impact of European-wide directives and legislation, and it’s not clear how Charlie McGreevy is going to put this into practice – whether by EU statute or some other sort of political instrument of accord – but whatever happens, I think it’s very good that Wishart and the PPL are holding hands on this.” The Gowers Review, he feels, “is very much seen as last year’s model”.

Musician, producer and MPG chairman Mike Howlett also welcomes the positive impact of Wishart’s initiative. “I think the length of term proposed is right [and] that the point made by Wishart in his speech is a good one – that this issue is not so much about the Cliffs and the McCartneys, it’s really about the little guys,” he tells PSN-e.

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