In recent months I’ve been happy to mention on these pages two great releases; The Story Of Blue Beat – 1960 and Jumping The Shuffle Blues – Jamaican Sound System Classics. Both of these compilations took advantage of the fact that the UK copyright on recorded works was 50 years. This meant meaning that any recording more than 50 years old fell into the public domain and could be released by anyone who saw fit.
In terms of the recordings covered, anything up to 1960 as of 2011, we were just the at the beginning of a journey in terms of Jamaican music, a journey that in a few years promised an explosion of incredible music coming into the public domain. 1965 the highpoint of ska would have been there in 2016 followed in 2018 by all of those amazing rocksteady recordings, and whilst both of these high spots were still a while away every year that passed promised even more and even better music.
But now this has all changed. Earlier this month the European Union Council after lobbying from record companies and others changed the rules, the copyright on recorded works has now been made 70 years throughout the European Union. The rule change became known as Cliff’s law when it was being lobbied after Cliff Richard whose earliest works were released in the late 50’s and was beginning to see some of his early hits (such as Living Doll) fall into the public domain. At the present time only a tiny minority of artists such as Sir Cliff, who is hardly strapped for cash anyway, stand to benefit but it’s true to say that as we progress through this decade the number of artists who had songs that are still popular enough to earn them continued royalties would undoubtedly rise. But even then the majority of will not benefit in any significant way and this law feels very much like it’s the work of a few major record companies, a handful of multi millionaire artists, and not the vast majority of individuals who have participated in creating recorded music over the previous five or more decades.
In the world of reggae precisely who will benefit is even less clear, when sales are at best limited and most artists have always made little or no royalties anyway a claim that this new law will somehow mean a better deal for artists can be taken with a pretty significant pinch of salt. For sure the stock of the Trojan back catalogue owned by Universal just went up by a few million pounds and Prince Busters back catalogue, that he has consistently failed to exploit anyway, is safe from public exposure for a while longer. But this law has been framed as something that will help artists, how exactly?
Alongside the vast majority of artists the other group who certainly won’t benefit from this law change are the people like us who love the music, the two compilations mentioned above simply could not have happened under the new law as the market is too small and contacting the rights owners for so many recordings 50 years after first issue would have been a massive and almost certainly impossible task. It is absolutely certain that a whole heap of early 60’s music that would have seen release within the next few years won’t now appear.
DanceCrasher has always been strongly against bootlegging and will continue to hold this position. But 50 years always seemed a reasonable period and when the ground start shifting under you as it has here it feels that much harder to maintain such a position. The major record labels may think they’ve won a major victory, in reality they may well have taken another step towards their own demise.