According to the singer, many musicians recording in the 1950s rely on their copyright payments as a pension.
"It seems terribly wrong that 50 years on they lose everything from it."
Now, copyright is a tradeoff, whereby a monopoly of limited duration is granted to the creator to exploit the work, after which it passes to the public domain. The thrust of the record labels' campaign is that artists don't make enough money from these recordings to save for a pension. Letting the labels continue to pay them a tiny fraction of revenues for another 45 years, when the sunk costs were accounted for 50 years ago makes no sense at all.
Louis Barfe attacks them on these grounds:
To extend the copyright period in sound recordings would make an already complacent industry even more unbearably smug, and give a clear signal that they can get exactly what they want if they whine loud enough. The losers will be the artists who continue to have their back catalogue sat on by the fat corporate arse of the record companies, the small record companies who have made available numerous archive recordings that have passed into the public domain (which would almost certainly not be made available any other way), and, of course, the general record-buying public.
I’m a reasonable man. Here’s a counter proposal: Record companies can have copyright for as long as they want, as long as they make their entire archives commercially available in some shape or form at a reasonable price. Until then, no sale.
However, this concedes too much. The labels are trying to have it both ways here. In a digital world, the back catalogue can be released by simply digitising the songs and putting them up for sale online. The investment needed is tiny, and certainly doesn't justify conceding any more monopoly rights.
The labels' traditional pitch to musicians is that they have huge advantages in marketing and publishing through their marketing and connections, their economies of scale and skilled professionalism, which justifies them keeping over 90% of revenue.
If this is true, why are they so afraid of competition?
With 50-year-old recordings, the production has been done, and the distribution costs can be made tiny with online digital sales; even CD pressing is orders of magnitude cheaper than it was 15 years ago, let alone 50. If the recordings are set free, others can publish them, including the original musicians, and keep more of the revenue for themselves. After all Magnatune pay a 50% royalty on Creative Commons licensed music.
The question to ask the labels is, if copyright expires on a recording, will you cease to sell it, or will you just cease to pay royalties to the musicians?
Looking back 60 years, a big artist then was Vera Lynn - and her recordings seem to be abundantly available in the UK.
So, are the labels still paying her royalties? Or are they pocketing the money themselves?