Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Copyright Protection for Sound Recordings – Now

The Sound Recording Simplification Act (H.R. 2933) was introduced in the U.S. House last week, seeking to extend U.S. copyright protection to sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972. Presently, §301(c) of the U.S. Copyright Act provides that federal copyright law does not preempt the common law and statutes of any U.S. state with respect to sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972. This preemption prohibition drops out in 95 years – by February 15, 2067. The newly proposed legislation would delete this section entirely to provide exclusive Copyright Act protection to these sound recordings – now.

All the great hits of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Buddy Holly, Charlie Parker, The Beach Boys, The Big Bopper and more, that were fixed prior to February 15, 1972, are presently protected by local and state laws, including criminal laws, right of publicity laws, and a patchwork of other laws. This lack of uniformity, consistency and clarity in protecting this material has been a concern to librarians, historians, archivists and other users. On the other hand, the music industry has developed a comfort level, for the most past, with the present system by creating contract-based relationships and contract work-arounds.

Recorded radio broadcasts of the Four Horsemen, recorded civil rights speeches, recorded scholarly lectures and interviews by Faulkner, Einstein and others, and a host of additional historical material, would be protected in a uniform and certain manner by extending the exclusivity of the Copyright Act to these sound recordings.

Frankly, it makes sense to bring all copyrightable work under the wing of protection of uniform federal copyright law. The development of new digital technologies that permit enhanced access to new and historical works can best be regulated under a definitive and uniform national law. Since the present Copyright Act is the vehicle for national protection of all copyrightable work, except for pre February 15, 2067 sound recordings, the elimination of this singular exception will assist the uniform protection of all work in the face of new technologies.

“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio …” 

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