Ti 09.09.2008 @ 16:32admin

Commission Proposal on a Directive for Term Extension. Co-authors.

 The EU Commission has recently proposed a change in European copyright law. The main effects would be on sound recordings; I have already commented on this. However, there is an additional provision on the protection of musical works which have several authors: “The term of protection of a musical composition with words shall expire 70 years after the death of the last of the following persons to survive, whether or not these persons are regarded as co-authors: the author of the lyrics and the composer of the music”.
As a rule, copyright in “artistic and literary works” last 70 years from the death of the author. But how about works with two authors? How do we count the term? The EU Commission mentions the opera “Pelléas et Mélisande” as an example. The composer, Claude Debussy, died in 1919. Maurice Maeterlinck, on whose play the opera was based, died in 1946. When does the copyright of this opera expire? In some countries, the words and music would be protected separately, in others, the opera would be considered a co-written work.
In real life, this question has little significance. If the libretto of an opera is protected but the music is not, or vice versa, you still cannot put it on stage without the permission of the publisher. If you want to record it, you will not get a 50 % discount of the copyright fee. However, different interpretations of the law could influence the way this money is divided. It could also make a difference if you only want to use the text or the music separately – say, make an instrumental recording of the music from the opera.
The Commission notes that “music is overwhelmingly co-written (…) the creative process is often collaborative in nature”. Most countries already recognise this. Under Finnish law, works of joint authorship are protected until 70 years from the death of the last surviving author. However, “Pelléas et Mélisande” was definitively not co-written. The play was first published in 1892 and performed at the Théatre des Bouffes-Parisiens in the following year, when Debussy saw it. After obtaining Maeterlinck’s permission, Debussy started working on the opera, and it was presented at the Opéra-Comique in 1902. During the compositional process, Debussy made many cuts and changes in Maeterlinck’s text, with no further input from the playwright. Under Finnish law, the opera would not be considered a “work of joint authorship”.
Is this a problem which needs to be solved? Where is the beef? The EU Commission is not able to give any examples. A recent study commissioned by EU from the Dutch Instituut voor Infomatierecht concluded that there are no good reasons to change the existing law.
It would be more correct to state that some musical works are co-written, while in other cases the words and music are independent of each other. Hundreds of composers have set the poems of Goethe, Schiller and Heine to music. Dozens of lyrics have been written to the finale of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. What happens if I, too, set  ”Heidenröslein” to music? As the law stands now, my modest contribution would be protected, and if the song is performed in public, I would receive appropriate remuneration. But if the new rule is accepted, Goethe’s rights would presumably also be born again, as the text would become copyrighted. Who gets Goethe’s share? Would I be able to use the text if there already is another recent song based on the same poem – Schubert, of course, is in public domain?
As I said, in real life the proposed change does not make much difference. I presume the European collecting societies have already figured out how to handle the money generated by “Pelléas et Mélisande” under the old law and the proposed new directive. I asked the Finnish composer’s collecting society Teosto, but they were not able to tell me how this would affect their work. I suppose someone will be found to pocket Clause Debussy’s money. But the proposal does illustrate one thing about EU’s copyright policy: the rights owners want to get more mileage out of their property, the changes are always in one direction only. And the new rule is just as vague as the old one.
Additional comments can be found in my previous blogs

Pekka Gronow is sound archivist and adjunct professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Helsinki. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the recording industry, including “An International History of the Recording Industry” (2000). 

Pekka Gronow

Pekka Gronow toimi asiantuntijana radion äänitearkistoissa. Hän kirjoitti blogissaan äänitteiden historiaan, arkistointiin ja tekijänoikeuteen liittyvistä asioista.