The Copyright Laws They Are A-Changing: Sony Issues Bob Dylan CDs to Extend Copyright Protection
In December, Sony Music released eighty-six Bob Dylan demo sound recordings from 1962-1963 in a limited edition, four-disc set. Only 100 physical copies were released in a handful of randomly selected record stores scattered across France, Sweden, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The box set, candidly-subtitled The Copyright Extension Collection, Volume 1, is intended to exploit a loophole in European copyright law. A Sony Music rep told Rolling Stone magazine that “[the collection] isn’t a scheme to make money. The copyright law in Europe was recently extended from fifty to seventy years for everything recorded in 1963 and beyond. With everything before that, there’s a new ‘Use It or Lose It’ provision. It basically said, ‘If you haven’t used the recordings in the first fifty years, you aren’t going to get any more.”
Unlike the United States, where copyright duration for a sound recording is the life of the author plus seventy years, the European Union’s duration term was only fifty years from the sound recording’s date of creation. In the 2000′s, performer’s rights advocates campaigned for European copyright extension laws. In 2011, the European Union passed “Sir Cliff’s Law,” named after the 60’s-era U.K. pop singer and copyright extension-advocate, Cliff Richard. Under this law, the term of copyright protection for a sound recording got extended to seventy years, but only if the work was first published (made available to the public through distribution) within the initial 50-year copyright period. This “use it or lose it” provision is the reason why Sony decided to release the box set around the holidays. Besides making a great gift, the 50-year term of the box set’s recordings was coming to an end.
Critics claim the new EU copyright extension laws, which go into effect in 2014, will mainly help ultra-famous recording artists like The Beatles, whose first single, “Love Me Do,” recently entered the public domain in Europe. There are provisions aimed at helping lesser-known musicians. After fifty years, for example, they can terminate their contracts with their record labels, but only if the record label fails to release a new version of the sound recordings within a year of the directive passing. We can probably expect to see more reissued songs in the future. As for the new Bob Dylan box set, copies are selling for over $1000 on eBay!