Copyright Issues


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Did you know that U.S. copyright law has locked up virtually our entire recorded heritage, all the way back to the first recordings made in the 1800s? That unlike all other intellectual property, there is no public domain for recordings? The corporations that have been given exclusive monopoly rights to early recordings have no use for them, don’t make them available, and rarely let others do so. Archives cannot even legally preserve them using modern best practices.

The U.S. is the only country in the world with such a dysfunctional system. Nobody wins. Rights holders get no revenue, and the public is denied access. If Americans want to hear their audio heritage they have to buy it from overseas, where copyright laws are more rational and historical recordings (including those made in the U.S.) are now in the public domain.

Some of us feel that in the understandable pursuit of protection for modern recordings U.S. copyright law has been twisted out of shape by lobbyists and lawyers, and we want to change it to preserve historical recordings and make them available to the American public. We believe that this can be done in a way that actually benefits rights holders as well as the public. We have made some progress–but we need your help. To learn more go to the website of the Historical Recording Coalition for Access and Preservation, at and sign the petition! To go directly to the petition click here.

“Only in America: The Unique Status of Sound Recordings under U.S. Copyright Law and How It Threatens Our Audio Heritage” (American Music 27:2, Summer 2009). Reproduced by permission. Copyright 2009 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois Press. No part of this article may be reproduced or distributed without the permission of the University of Illinois Press. Subscription information

“How Copyright Law Affects Reissues of Historic Recordings” (ARSC Journal 36:2, 2005)

“Survey of Reissues of U.S. Recordings” (Council on Library and Information Resources and Library of Congress, 2005)

“Our Recorded Heritage Deserves to Be Heard” (Billboard, May 14, 2005)

“Showdown at the Copyright Corral: Why Scholars Need to Speak Up About Copyright and Recordings” (Popular Music & Society, July 2005)

Copyright & Fair Use Column in ARSC Journal (2004- )

Five recommendations by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections for changes in U.S. copyright law to facilitate preservation of and access to historic recordings. Comments by Tim Brooks at a hearing held by the National Recording Preservation Board in New York City, Dec. 19, 2006 (ARSC Newsletter 113, Winter 2007).

Recommendations to Copyright Office on legislation to make “orphan works” accessible. Tim Brooks, 2005.     Comment     Reply Comment

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