The BBC has a thoughtful piece on the pending expiry of copyright in sound recordings of a number of major pieces of music.

[T]he message from the industry is one of impending gloom. They are warning that they face one of the biggest challenges to their survival since popular music exploded in the 1960s. In 2013, copyright in the sound recording of the Beatles’ first album expires, as it will for recordings from Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and other performers of the same period.

The reported response? “[I]ndustry executives are lobbying the UK government to extend protection for sound recordings from 50 years to 95”.

Note that this article is dealing with protection of sound recordings–ie a particular rendition of the piece embodied in a tape master. It is not talking about copyright in the underlying piece of music itself: while sound recordings are protected for 50 years in the UK, the work itself is protected for life + 70.

The song itself will still be under copyright, so any new performances or recordings still need the permission of the copyright owner. It’s just that very old recordings aren’t.

As the article notes, this leads to a divergence of interests between artists and studios:

For each sale of a Beatles recording, the owner of the copyright in the original work will continue to receive payment until this expires many years from now.

What will disappear is the right of individual record companies to maintain a monopoly on release of certain recordings. And this is what worries them.

The article goes on to consider what effect this will have on consumers (ie lower prices, more choice). Well worth a read.