The European Union Council has recently voted to extend copyright protection on sound recordings from 50 to 70 years after the date of the original recording. The change follows an extensive campaign by Sir Cliff Richard and other artists to have the period for music copyright extended in order to reward artists on a long-term basis for their creative efforts.

Whilst the decision, christened "Cliff's Law," requires that all 27 EU Member States must incorporate the changes into national law within two years, eight Member States voted against the new period of copyright and two abstained on the basis that the extension would benefit only the minority.

Critics of the decision argue that the extension will largely benefit the major record labels and big artists, with many less well known musicians experiencing little gain. The change itself affects the copyright on studio recordings which are usually owned by large record labels. The position would be different if the extension applied to the right to the composition which belongs to the musician who produced it. The European Consumers' Organisation commented that EU consumers will have to wait "20 years longer than before for recordings to enter the public domain" and argued that the new laws favour a minority of famous older artists at the cost of higher licence fees for buyers.

However, a number of musicians including Jools Holland, Bjorn Ulvaeus of Abba and Mick Jagger welcomed the EU Council's decision. They argue that the extension of the copyright period is fair payment for the time, creativity and soul invested by artists into their musical works. According to the European Council "performers generally start their careers young and the current term of protection of 50 years often does not protect their performances for their entire lifetime." The extension allows artists to keep control over the use of their songs well into their old age. It is also argued that UK record labels are now able to support new talent by injecting the income generated by sales of early music recordings back into current artists. The new law also features provisions which aim to make sure musicians get a proportion of the new income: a fund has been established for artists who signed their rights away at the time of the recording.

The wider implications of the EU Council's decision will be evident in the coming years. Individuals and businesses should be aware of the changes when dealing with sound recordings which may now attract copyright protection.