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Re-issue labels capitalise on ‘Love Me Do’ going public domain as IPO begins consultation on copyright extension

By | Published on Thursday 10 January 2013

The Beatles

Two small independent labels have released versions of Beatles track ‘Love Me Do’, which officially fell out of copyright on 31 Dec, even though the sound recording copyright term is in the process of being extended in Europe.

As much previously reported, the European record industry lobbied for years for the copyright term enjoyed by sound recordings to be extended from the current 50 years. European labels really wanted parity with the US, where the sound recording copyright term is 95 years, but in the end politicians in Brussels approved an extension to 70.

The UK government initially opposed the term extension, but was persuaded to back the 70 year term in 2009, mainly because of the small community of aging session musicians who earn royalties from the 1960s hits they were involved in, thanks to a rule that says any recording artists involved in a recording are due a cut of public performance royalties via collecting society PPL, oblivious of past agreements with the labels who released and likely own said recordings.

As copyright terms must be the same across the European Union, once it backed the 70 year term, the British government had to persuade its counterparts in Brussels to support the extension. Although the European Commission and Parliament approved the move, some member states opposed the extension in the EU Council, which delayed things somewhat.

For the UK record industry there was an urgency, because its catalogue of mid-1960s recordings, including key Beatles and Rolling Stones releases, which still generate sizable revenues, was approaching the end of its 50 year term. The deadline was always informally set at 2012, the 50th anniversary of the release of the first Beatles’ single ‘Love Me Do’.

At a European level the deadline was technically met, and the 70 year term was approved in September 2011. However, the extension then had to be incorporated into the law of each EU member state, with the requirements of the copyright extension directive needing to be interpreted in the context of each European copyright system. That is set to be done by November this year.

The UK’s Intellectual Property Office began that work just last week, opening a consultation on the matter. The rights and wrongs of the sound recording copyright term extending to 70 years (and not everyone agrees it’s a good idea) is not up for debate, however there are some technicalities that need working out.

In particular, there will be a ‘use it or lose it’ clause, that will mean that labels must ensure that recordings 50 year old and over are available for consumption and purchase, otherwise a featured artist will be able to claim control of the copyright. Quite what ‘making available’ means, and how featured artists will go about claiming control, is still to be worked out.

Input on all of that is being welcomed by the IPO until 4 Mar this year. How quickly UK copyright law will then be amended isn’t clear, though under European Union rules the extension must be in place by November. Because sound recordings actually go ‘public domain’ at the end of the year in which the 50 year term expires, that means that anything released in 1963 will get the 70 year term.

However, those recordings released in 1962 went into public domain at the end of last month, and as the extension will not be applied retrospectively, they will remain out of copyright. And that includes the original recording of ‘Love Me Do’ and its b-side ‘PS I Love You’.

The copyrights in the songs, of course, are not affected, because they are subject to a different term (life of the creators – ie Lennon and McCartney – plus 70 years), but providing the songs’ publishers are paid a licence fee, it means anyone can distribute those original recordings without the permission of their former owners, EMI, or now Universal Music.

And first to seemingly capitalise on that fact is a company called Digital Remasterings, which has included ‘Love Me Do’ on a compilation of very early Beatles recordings, mainly live recordings from their time working at Hamburg’s Star Club. Meanwhile a company called Pristine Classical, which specialises in releasing remastered versions of out-of-copyright classical recordings, has issued its own remaster of ‘Love Me Do’, seemingly in protest at the copyright extension.

Universal, of course, will still have the exclusive rights to distribute ‘Love Me Do’ alongside the rest of the Beatles catalogue in Europe, and will still own subsequent official reworks of the original recording, but that one Beatles song (and its b-side) falling out of copyright is nevertheless an interesting little epilogue to the term extension story.

In related news, a very limited edition release of early Bob Dylan recordings, called the ‘The Copyright Extension Collection, Vol 1’, has been distributed in various European record shops, seemingly to ensure the copyright owners don’t fall foul of the ‘use it or lose it’ clause as it is incorporated into copyright systems around Europe.

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