Copyright terms set to be extended again, as recordings from 1923 won't be in the public domain until 2067
Copyright terms may be expanded to 144 years thanks to a new law being debated in the US Congress. If passed, this would be the 12th time that copyright terms have been extended.
The CLASSICS Act, currently being debated in the Senate and House, aims to extend the copyright terms of sound recordings made between to 1923 and 1972 so that they do not fall into public domain until the year 2067.
Major record labels have been pushing for the term to be extended so their owned works, including those by Glenn Miller, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley, can continue to earn royalties from licensing deals.
The CLASSICS Act would also ensure these works cannot be streamed without a license, which would benefit the major streaming platforms such as Spotify that have existing licensing agreements in place, in their attempt to fight off new and minor players aiming to build their library around public domain recordings.
Critics of the proposed changes say the term extension could see "orphan works", that is lesser known recordings whose owners are not readily located, be forever lost. With these recordings still in copyright, and with the owners nowhere to be found, it would mean efforts to archive these recordings could meet copyright hurdles. The same critics argue that as opposed to a blanket granting of copyright extensions to all works, it should be up to the rights holders to actively apply for extensions (or else, copyright for works, by default, expire)
Others also argue that this goes against the principles behind copyright in the first place. They argue that copyright is as much about protecting the rights of creators to earn revenue from their works, as it is to protect cultural heritage by ensuring works are not lost or kept out of the public domain. The latter would be at risk if copyright terms are continuously extended, they say.