Tuesday, April 18, 2006


On first glance, Cliff Richard's pleas that mechanical copyright be extended from fifty years to lifetime plus seventy years seems to be reasonable:

According to the singer, many musicians born in the 1950s rely on their copyright payments as a pension.

"It seems terribly wrong that 50 years on they lose everything from it."

But then, is the extension of the copyright period really a neat way of creating pension schemes for performers that Cliff claims it is?

If that's the real idea, then what's the point of the "plus seventy years" bit - the argument, of course, would be that this would allow the performer's heirs to also benefit from his work, but why should they? I don't get money as a result of the work my grandad did at the Tamplins Brewery fifty years ago, and I've yet to have it explained to me why children and grandchildren of writers should be treated any differently.

But what of extending the period from its current generous fifty years? Would this not help poor performers in their old age?

Clearly, Cliff, and Macca and the successes don't need the extra help - and removing all our rights to use recordings which copyright holders have had fifty years to exploit to the full to further enrich the already grotesquely rich doesn't seem to be a compelling idea.

Artists who were less successful in the 1950s might make a few quid from the changes, though. But here the key word is "might". It's disingenuous of Cliff to pretend that the people who sang and played on the tracks will be the ones who get the money from this extended copyright - most of these copyrights are held by corporations rather than individual people, and so rather than helping out musician pensioners, Cliff's scheme would wind up swelling private companies bottom lines.

More importantly, if these singers are eking by on a few quid, surely that's because their record weren't selling that well by the 49 years of copyright stage. If they weren't making enough to live on before the copyright would have had its fiftieth anniversary, why would they suddenly find cash rolling after?

If Cliff really cares about making sure old singers don't starve, perhaps he should think about having a word with his chum Tony about improving the basic State Pension. Then all our senior citizens could afford to keep warm and eat well, not just the ones who happened to have a number 32 hit back in 1958.

But we're not rejecting Cliff's calls out of hand:

But Sir Cliff says they should be given the same rights as songwriters, who get royalties for life plus 70 years.

"It seems to me we should ask for parity," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "It doesn't seem just."

Parity. Yes - copyright for everyone and everything should be cut back to fifty years from date of creation. That would be just, it would give everyone ample time to make their money back, and inspire others.

You're right Cliff. Let's push for parity.