Michael Connarty: Musicians deserve more royalties

Sir Cliff Richard supported the campaign. Picture: Dan Phillips

Sir Cliff Richard supported the campaign. Picture: Dan Phillips

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The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, recorded in 1964, has an unforgettable sound created by the violinists who played on that studio session.

The original violinists were musicians named Tony Gilbert, Sidney Sax, John Sharpe and Jurgen Hess, and copyright payments are important to such session players. Just as important has been the prospect of losing that income in 2014 which can have a very damaging effect on musicians in their retirement.

When buying a CD or downloading a track online, we have some idea that some of the money goes to the musicians. Over the years radio stations or public premises, such as pubs, clubs or shops, have paid a small licence fee. It always seemed fair to me that if you are making commercial use of musicians’ work the musicians should receive their dues. Until last month, musicians in Europe only got paid for their recordings for 50 years after the recording date, while in the United States it is 95 years. I am pleased to say things have just got a little better for these musicians – big headliner, small band member and session 
musicians.

Some people asked: “Why should we worry about that? Surely musicians like Paul McCartney have already made their millions.”

This was the UK Government’s first reaction, and the BBC tried to call it “Cliff’s Law” when Sir Cliff Richard supported the campaign to extend payments. Sir Cliff, Sir Paul and other big names know there are also the session musicians, backing groups and orchestra members who only work for small fees, and often irregularly. These are the often full-time qualified musicians and fine artists who make the recordings sound so good. Many of them make a precarious living from their music, and the copyright payments from recordings are the only pension from their employment they will ever receive.

So it was for the army of musicians who have given us so much great music that some years ago, I joined forces with the Musicians’ Union and PPL – the organisation that collects sound recording royalties for musicians – to begin a campaign at Westminster and in the EU for payments through musicians’ copyright term to be extended to the same as in the US.

A Europe-wide petition organised by the Musicians’ Union attracted signatures from more than 38,000 musicians. We were delighted when, in 2009, the European Parliament unanimously voted in favour of the proposed extension to 70 years.

It was still a struggle with some of the other EU countries, with Sweden being under pressure from the Pirate Party who wanted absolutely free access to musicians’ recordings but, eventually, in September 2011, the Council of Ministers approved Directive 2011/77/EU.

This required all member states to bring in a new law extending the payments for copyright on sound recordings for 70 years after the recording. On November 1, that became law within the UK.

There aren’t many quick victories in politics. Changing the law usually involves a long haul. But it’s all the more satisfying when a sustained campaign on something as fair as getting talented people payment for their unique contribution to recorded music, with lots of people working together, eventually succeeds.

Michael Connarty is MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and co-chair of All Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group (APPJAG)