PR Works

The recording industry has the best PR. Evidence: a quite startling suspension of balance on The BBC’s agenda setting morning news show The Today Programme today. An item, by Stephen Evans, about the proposed extension of European copyright protection for music recordings from 50 to 95 years (to match American law) was breathtakingly skewed in favour of the record labels.

“There’s a good argument to be made that the greatest male singer of all time was Tito Gobbi and the greatest female singer Maria Callas and that the greatest opera recording was made by EMI when the two sang together in 1953. That Tosca is now one of the jewels in EMI’s treasury. Under European coyright law, though, its a jewel that’s about to become legally available to any company with the means to burn and sell a CD.“

The impeccable industry PR line, reproduced without question by Evans, is that the treasury of European recorded music is about to be “made free to all comers”. The PR ‘hook’ is the fiftieth anniversary of this famous recording.

No mention was made of the powerful arguments for the rolling back of copyright protection, no mention of the effectively unlimited protection offered by Digital Rights Management systems, no consumer voice, no artists, no mention of the potential damage to the public domain, nothing. Just the undiluted record industry line.

Evans failed to note that a 45 year extension to copyright protection necessarily means the removal from the public domain of substantial parts of the recorded legacy. Did he ask if the labels would agree to keep their entire libraries in circulation in return for this near doubling of their period of exclusive ownership? Not likely.

Worse, the labels were allowed to play the part of the earnest defenders of the musical ‘treasury’ and the indefensible idea that record labels might actually be depending on the profits from those extra 45 years was tried out (speaking from my experience running businesses, I’d like to shake the hands of the board of directors that signed off on that 95 year business plan – admirably long-term thinking).

Stephen Evans is an admirable reporter but this was PR cut-and-paste of the worst kind. Incidentally, I wonder if Jim Naughty’s well-known passion for opera can have anything to do with the way this story has surfaced?

The Real Audio file is here (not sure how long it will be available)

Graeme Payne has put a transcript here (thanks Graeme!)

1 comment

  1. I completely agree. The bit where the woman from the record industry said: “Its a scandal that the americans are /protecting/ their recordings for 95 years, and we are /only/ doing ours for fifty. Surely we europeans should be protecting our heritage?”. It was at that time that i remember checking my compass, and discovering that north was south, and east was west.

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