First of all, may I say how pleased I was to be able to accept the invitation to open this seminar on "the business of music". I think it would be true to say that there can be a tendency, in some quarters, to underestimate the true importance of the music business both as a major global economic activity and as an invaluable global cultural resource. Perhaps it might even be fair to say that at times, mutual understanding of their problems on the part of the various cultural and commercial interests that make up the music community could be better. I therefore welcome the initiative of the IBEC Music Industry Group in organising this seminar as a useful contribution to the process of developing understanding of the issues affecting an area of vital cultural and economic significance.
As Minister with responsibility for copyright matters, I am well aware of the relationship between the commercial and cultural missions of the music industry. From before the dawn of civilisation, music has formed a central part of most known human cultures, enriching beyond estimation the lives of countless people over the ages. Speaking frankly, however, there can never have been a time at which the creators of music - the composers, lyricists and players - can have lived on spiritual sustenance alone. In past ages, such creators were required to rely on patronage, or on short-term payments relating broadly to what we would now call the "first making available" of their works through publication or performance, for their living. In the age of mass culture and mass communication, there can clearly be no way that musical creators can obtain a fair return for their endeavours through such limited means.
Vast industries concerned with the distribution of sound recordings and the publication of music in general have grown up to connect the musical creator with an ever-larger and more complex body of consumers on a global level, and these industries have assumed enormous independent importance in the world economy. Where I come in, so to speak, is with the fact that copyright protection is absolutely central to securing the links in the economic chain between creator and consumer. This is vital from the cultural as well as the economic viewpoint, because unless creators obtain a fair return for their intellectual investment, and the industry obtains a fair return for its financial investment, the community at large cannot continue to enjoy the benefit of their labours and investment in the form of a vibrant and innovative musical life.
As many of you will be aware, we are living through a crucial period in the development of Irish intellectual property law, and of Irish copyright law in particular. One of my major ministerial responsibilities at the moment is that of sponsoring a new Copyright and Related Rights Bill through the Oireachtas. This Bill, which is one of the largest non-consolidation Bills ever to be presented to the Oireachtas, will when enacted replace legislation of which the Principal Act dates from 1963. Indeed, that Act itself is closely based on the United Kingdom Copyright Act of 1956.
Given the extent of change in the global economy in general, and in the technologies available for the recording, transmission and dissemination of copyright works in particular, the delay in reviewing and replacing such elderly legislation in the area of copyright was clearly most unfortunate and, as I have noted before, inexcusable. The fact that the Irish courts have generally been enlightened and sensible in applying the terms of the Copyright Act, 1963 to conditions increasingly removed from the technological and economic context of its origins has, at least, meant that the legislation has remained generally workable.
Nonetheless, serious legislative difficulties existed and, to a very considerable extent, continue to exist. For example, penalties for criminal offences in the copyright field under the old legislation remained unrealistically low, even following an update in 1987. Also, the structure of evidentiary presumptions made it very difficult for some plaintiffs to sustain even highly meritorious claims, as they allowed defendants to base their defences primarily on mere denials of matters as simple as the subsistence of copyright in the most obvious of copyright works, all of which denials had to be answered by the plaintiff not only with written, but with oral evidence. Clearly, this latter burden was particularly onerous for plaintiffs in complex cases with an international dimension, such as will often arise in relation to music and sound recording rights.
The problems of penalties and presumptions were to a substantial extent solved, I am happy to say, by the enactment of the Intellectual Property (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1998 last July. This Act, a small preliminary to the present Bill, increased penalties for copyright offences very substantially, and shifted the evidentiary burden in civil copyright cases substantially in favour of plaintiff rightsholders, including authors' rights societies acting in this role.
The present Bill has much more ambitious objectives involving as it does a comprehensive modernisation of Irish copyright law. It will afford rightsholders protection in the context of a modern, effective and efficient legislative framework, fully in line with all requirements of EU and international law in the field of copyright and related rights. In this context, I would like to thank those interests in the music industry which have made a very positive contribution to the extensive process of consultation which preceded the publication of the Bill. Neither I, nor my Department, would claim to be the fount of all wisdom in copyright matters and, while we may not always find ourselves in agreement with the perspectives emerging from the music industry in such matters, positive and energetic debate on a legislative proposal of this importance can only help us to arrive at a better final outcome.
Within the music community and the music industry, disputes and conflicts of interest can arise. For example, disputes between record production companies and artists have featured prominently in the courts in recent years. One area of tension which has been quite prominent in Ireland has been that relating to the connection between copyright and traditional music, and the recording of such music by digital means capable of producing ever-more-perfect recordings.
On the specific point of digital recordings of traditional music, I might remark that I believe the fear of so-called "digital capture" of a primary copyright in pure traditional music to be misplaced. Such a "capture" by a recording company, which would subject performers of pure traditional music to copyright restrictions in respect of their playing of such music, is surely impossible in relation to material which in copyright terms has no author, and which cannot be subjected to any meaningful test of originality. It seems to me that, however perfect it may be, a sound recording of pure traditional music can only ever generate a copyright interest in that sound recording as such, which will not touch the traditional material which is the subject of the recording. Nonetheless, potential difficulties remain in the relations between traditional musicians and other music rightsholders, in particular, in relation to the treatment of arrangements of traditional music which may be copyright-protected, as well as original music in the traditional idiom, which certainly will enjoy protection.
In this connection, I very much welcome the recent demarcation agreement between the Irish Music Rights Organisation and Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which should go a long way to ensuring that unnecessary and damaging disputes within the music community on the often difficult question of the copyright status of traditional music and music in the traditional idiom are avoided. This is a notable example of good and responsible practice in commercial relations within the music community and, from a different standpoint, between those who may be described as the producers of music and its consumers or users. It is an example which encourages me to appeal to all interests in the music community, and indeed in the copyright community in general, to persevere in what is, in general, their reasonable, courteous and businesslike approach to the conduct of their affairs. This must be most conducive to the efficient and effective achievement of their objectives.
I do not propose to hold you much longer from your work. I would only like to add my opinion that in promoting communication within and understanding of "the business of music", participants in today's seminar are performing most valuable work in helping to ensure the health and vitality, not just of a major global industry, but of a cultural activity which brings joy and nurture to nations and to people the world over.
In conclusion, may I wish you, again, the very best in your work which contributes so greatly to the welfare of authors and composers and, in supporting their creativity, to the welfare of the global economy and community as a whole.
Last modified: 26/09/2001