Performance royalties have a term of 50 years, but a campaign to extend it has been joined by industry heavyweights such as Paul McGuinness, manager of U2, who are concerned that short copyright term leaves recordings vulnerable to pirating.
By contrast, artists who write their own material are entitled to publishing royalties for their lifetimes plus 70 years.
Showband artists, who often recorded music written by others, missed out on performance royalties in the unregulated era of the 1960s and 1970s. Now copyright laws are in place, time is running out.
“The older the artist, the more they have to lose,” said McGuinness. “The boom of pop music started 50 years ago in the 1960s, so artists of that era are particularly affected.”
Eanna Casey, of Recorded Artists and Performers, said: “People in showbands are coming up to the 50-year mark. It’s a double whammy for them — they didn’t have the extent of media outlets we have today and they really had to graft back then. Now, as the boat comes in for them, it’s ‘sorry but you were too early’.”
Paddy Cole, a member of the Capitol Showband in the 1960s, realises that time is running out on his recordings. “In 1962 we were the first of the showbands to record an LP,” he said. “We paid for everything ourselves and the only return we got on that was people paying in at the gigs. Now we’ve a situation that whatever little return might be going, the time is nearly up.”
The Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) is backing the campaign and lobbied Charlie McCreevy the European Commissioner, last summer.
“The extension of the copyright from 50 years to 95 years would benefit all artists,” said Dick Doyle of IRMA. “There are a huge number of non- featured artists playing on albums. For them, it’s the difference between the breadline and a comfortable pension.”
IRMA is compiling a petition that it hopes to launch later this year. “Paul McGuinness has signed U2 up and they’ve been very vocal,” said Doyle. “This is a case of the big boys fighting for the little boys.”
Fiachra Trent, a conductor and music director who worked on Van Morrison’s Have I Told You Lately and The Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays, believes that royalties are an important acknowledgment of the contribution that musicians make to recordings.
“As to whether it’s an important stream of royalties, well, it’s good for me because I’ve a considerable back-catalogue of record performances to which I’ve contributed,” Trent said.
The benefit of royalties depends on whether the recordings are still active. “It tends to be what’s been released in the past 10 years, but sometimes I see surprises, such as Old Town by Phil Lynott or Fairytale of New York by the Pogues.”
With the likes of Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock and Red Hurley still performing, sales of their original recordings are active.
“I did the showband revival last Christmas in Dublin’s Helix and Belfast’s Waterfront, and for six nights in both places it was sold out,” said Cole. “So that interest is there.
“Now we get royalties for anything that is sold, but it’s a shame that for 30 or 40 years we didn’t get anything. Now that it’s just been sorted out, it’ll run out.”
McCreevy is planning to extend the term of performance royalties and will present proposals in the first half of next year. “There is a study under way at the University of Amsterdam to evaluate the economic impact of extending the term,” said Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for McCreevy.
“It’s unclear whether we’ll go with the American system or some other. Our intention is to change the period, but we need to work out the economic impact before we decide what the term should be.”