Copyright Offices Proposes New Protection for Pre-1772 Recordings

The U.S. Copyright Office recently recommended that sound recordings made before February 15, 1972 be brought under federal copyright law. Under the current copyright regime, recordings made before that date are protected under state law.

As a result, the legal protection of pre-1972 sound recordings varies by state, and the scope of protection is often unclear. Many argue the current system has also hampered efforts to preserve historical sound recordings and make them accessible to the public.

“We believe that bringing pre-1972 sound recordings into the federal copyright system serves the interests of consistency and certainty, and will assist libraries and archives in carrying out their missions while also offering additional rights and protection for sound recording right holders,” Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante stated.

Below are a few highlights from the office’s report on Federal Copyright Protection for Pre-1972 Sound Recordings:

  • Federalization would best serve the interest of libraries, archives, and others in preserving old sound recordings and in increasing the availability to the public of old sound recordings.
  • The principal objection offered by certain right holders – that federalizing protection for pre-1972 sound recordings would cast a cloud over existing ownership of rights in those recordings – can be addressed by expressly providing that the ownership of copyright in the sound recording shall vest in the person who owned the rights under state law just prior to the enactment of the federal statute.
  • The term of protection for sound recordings fixed prior to February 15, 1972 should be 95 years from publication or, if the work had not been published prior to the effective date of legislation federalizing protection, 120 years from fixation.
  • In no case would protection continue past February 15, 2067, and
in cases where the foregoing terms would expire before 2067, a right holder may obtain extended protection for any pre-1972 sound recording by making that recording available to the public at a reasonable price and, during a transition period of several years, notifying the Copyright Office of its intention to secure extended protection extended protection.

The full report is available here.

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