Designs & Copyright
Posted on 4/2/2014

The Beatles and recent changes in European copyright law

Apple recently released 59 Beatles tracks on iTunes that were originally recorded in 1963.  Presumably, the tracks have been released in response to recent changes in copyright law in the European Union. The changes came into force on 1 November 2013 as the result of the implementation of a European Union approved directive.  If the tracks had not been publicly released then the copyright in the sound recordings would have expired 50 years after the material was originally recorded i.e. at the end of 2013. The copyright in these published sound recordings will now expire at the end of 2083.

It’s likely that further rare material will be issued from other artists

It therefore seems likely that further rare material will also be issued for other artists in order to extend copyright protection.

The new copyright laws similarly extend the performers’ rights in a recording, but in the case of performers’ rights the term of protection is calculated differently.  The initial term of 50 years starts from the date that the recording is made, however, if the recording is played, communicated to the public or published the period of protection starts on the date of the earliest of these events.  Provided the sound recordings are published, played or communicated to the public then the performers’ rights in the sound recording are extended from 50 years to 70 years.

‘Use it or lose it’ clause

As a result of the implementation of the EU directive, if a record label is not making a recording available for sale (both physically and online) 50 years after its publication, then a performer can implement a ‘use it or lose it’ clause whereby the performer may request that their rights in the performance revert back to them.  If the performer’s rights revert to the performer then the producer’s copyright in the recording will expire.

A further provision of the new laws that have been implemented is that when music and lyrics in a musical composition are written specifically for each other, the term of copyright in each work will now last 70 years from the death of the last surviving of the creators. Previously, the copyright in the music and the lyrics expired at different times, i.e. 70 years from the death of the composer or the lyricist respectively.

If you require assistance in relation to the copyright issues mentioned above, or in relation to copyright generally, then please do not hesitate to contact Wilson Gunn.

Wilson Gunn