2024-05-22 04:51:47
Preserving a copy of the future archives/movies/music/news

Guardian Unlimited Technology | Technology | 

“Under UK copyright law,” says Ben White, copyright and compliance manager at the British Library, “we are unable to copy for preservation purposes film or sound material that sits in our permanent collection.” A further complication is the fact that about 10% of the archive, which includes more than a million discs and 185,000 tapes, is unpublished. Much of that is known as orphan works – pieces whose owners are unknown. We know who owns When I’m 64, but who owns the archive’s recording of Nelson Mandela’s speech at the Rivonia trial?

“We think the extra 45 years is very important,” Richard Mollet, director of public affairs for the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), the industry’s trade association says, calling the 1950s a “big bang moment” for the world impact of British music. “Copyrights are the asset bases of British record companies. If we enhance the asset base, we can go on to make other, more exciting entrepreneurial investment decisions. If we increase the length of the term, we increase the value of these assets. We think they should remain in British ownership, because that’s where they came from.”

Industry people often use the phrase “the Beatles extension” because the first Beatles recordings, owned by EMI – which has called for term extension in evidence submitted to the EU and the UK – will come out of copyright in 2012. When I’m 64 is 39 years old.

Much of the Beatles’ catalogue was sold to Michael Jackson, who outbid McCartney for the publishing rights in 1985 and has since sold them to Sony Records. McCartney has to pay royalties to sing many of his own songs. There are plenty of other, less famous musicians whose recordings are out of print yet locked in the ownership of someone who refuses to release them.

“Locked” is, however, a fighting word to Mollet: “We falsely hear it said that copyright equals locked up.” Not so, he insists: “It’s allowing companies to make available their back catalogues.”

Nonetheless, even without term extension, Glenn Gould’s 1955 performance – now out of copyright -of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is still available; it was recently reissued by Sony. And there are no industry figures for what proportion of revenue comes from old material.

“The cultural institutions are quite correctly identifying that they have film or recording stock that’s rotting away because of cost and, in some cases, ambiguity around whether it would be within the law to make preservation copies of that work,” says Paula le Dieu, managing director of the new media company Magic Lantern and former head of the BBC’s Creative Archive. “But they need to continuously be thinking about what the next problem is that they face: having made those digital copies, what access are they going to provide for the public?”

After all, she says, “a vast, vast collection of British cultural heritage is locked away on dusty shelves, of no apparent value or not enough value that people have been prepared to make even the most basic preservation efforts with that material, and why can’t the public access that material? Preservation is not enough.”

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