We routinely bash Europe for a litany of sins and ills including anti-Semitism, moral relativism, spaghetti spines, bureaucratic nonsense, status quo-worship, etc, etc., but when it comes to copyright, Europe has it all over the US:
- European copyright protection is expiring on a collector’s trove of 1950’s jazz, opera and early rock ‘n’ roll albums, forcing major American record companies to consider deals with bootleg labels and demand new customs barriers.
Already reeling from a stagnant economy and the illegal but widespread downloading of copyrighted music from the Internet, the recording companies will now face a perfectly legal influx of European recordings of popular works.
Copyright protection lasts only 50 years in European Union countries, compared with 95 years in the United States, even if the recordings were originally made and released in America. So recordings made in the early- to mid-1950’s – by figures like Maria Callas, Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald – are entering the public domain in Europe, opening the way for any European recording company to release albums that had been owned exclusively by particular labels.
Although the distribution of such albums would be limited to Europe in theory, record-store chains and specialty outlets in the United States routinely stock foreign imports.
Expiring copyrights could mean much cheaper recordings for music lovers, but they do not bode well for major record companies. (These copyrights apply to only the recordings, not the music recorded.) The expected crush of material entering the public domain has already sent one giant company, EMI Classics, into a shotgun marriage with a renegade label that it had long tried to shut down to protect its lucrative Callas discography. The influx also has the American record industry talking about erecting a customs barrier. [NY Times]
Aah, trade barriers, always the answer. It might make a bit more sense for the US to align its copyright laws with the rest of the world.