updated 12/7/2006 4:48:56 PM ET 2006-12-07T21:48:56

Paul McCartney, U2 and Eric Clapton joined thousands of other musicians Thursday in an appeal to the government to extend the British copyright protection on their recordings.

The performers took out a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times newspaper calling for "fair play for musicians," in response to a report recommending that the government maintain its current laws granting copyrights on sound recordings and performers' rights for 50 years.

That falls well short of the 95-year copyright protection that exists in the United States, and the recording industry fears that British artists could see their work exploited in their lifetimes.

Some of the Beatles catalog could be up for grabs for compilation releases beginning in 2012, including early hits like "Love Me Do" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

But Andrew Gowers, the author of the government-commissioned report on intellectual property, said that extending copyright of music recording beyond 50 years would have only benefited "an exceptional few stars, who are already fabulously rich."

Other signatories to the advertisement, which included 3,500 record companies and 40,000 performers, were orchestra conductor Simon Rattle, Cliff Richard and opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa.

"Performers are angry that their very real concerns about copyright term are not being taken seriously and that is why they have taken this unprecedented step with this advertisement," said Keith Harris, a spokesman for Phonographic Performance Ltd., the organization that collects and distributes royalties.

"Extending copyright term is not just about superstars demanding special treatment as it is sometimes portrayed, it is about performers at all levels — many of them barely earning a living wage — being treated fairly under the law."

Gowers said that consumers as well as artists must be protected and dismissed suggestions that musicians might move to the United States to extend their copyright protection _ citing the Scissor Sisters as evidence that some U.S. bands were actually signing up to British labels "to develop in a vibrant scene."

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce applauded the report, arguing that the law should not be changed without compelling evidence of creative or economic benefits.

"It is very pleasing that Gowers has resisted the special pleading by a number of already wealthy pop stars to increase the copyright term in sound recordings," said Paul Crake, program director of the RSA.

Crake said that the report should have gone further and rolled back some of the existing laws _ songwriters are currently granted copyright for their lifetime and for 70 years after their death.

Crake said that did not benefit "the writer nor others who wish to use their work."

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry threw its weight behind an extension.

"Equalization of copyright term is the issue which goes to the heart of the government's claim to value the British music industry," said IFPI Chairman John Kennedy.

"It is illogical and discriminatory that British artists and producers should enjoy less copyright protection than their counterparts internationally as well as British composers and songwriters," Kennedy added.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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