Fifty years after it was first released in the United States, Elvis Presley's "That's All Right" is a hit in Great Britain. The single entered the British charts last week at No. 3. But for BMG, the company releasing the track, the celebration might be short-lived.
If there are no changes in European copyright law, the track will fall into public domain Jan. 1, 2005. Anyone will be able to release it without paying royalties to the owners of the master or the performer's heirs. BMG will start losing a significant piece of its catalog income in Europe.
As "That's All Right" is being hailed by some as the beginning of rock 'n' roll, the implications are that every year after 2005, more recordings that defined the genre will fall into public domain.
In the United States, BMG will continue to own the rights to the recording. Under the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, sound recordings are protected for 95 years from the day of recording in the United States -- for post-1976 recordings, coverage is the artist's life plus 70 years.
In most of the European Union, the duration is 50 years after the first release of a sound recording. The Elvis case illustrates the importance of the issue for record companies in Europe. It also highlights the discrepancy between Europe and the United States.
"I regard this week's anniversary as a wakeup call and a call to arms to step up a gear or two in our campaign to lobby for a similar term in the EU," said Peter Jamieson, executive chairman of British Phonograph Industry, in a recent speech.
The EU is reviewing its past directives on intellectual property, notably the EU Term of Protection directive. With this in mind, trade body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry last year asked the European Commission for an extension of Term of Protection for producers and artists with the goal of ending the discrepancy between the United States and the EU.
The IFPI has started a campaign to raise awareness among policy makers and legislators on the issue. It targets EU member states, the EC and the Parliament.
Source: Reuters / Updated: Jul 17, 2004