Year ago my wife and I knew Libby Holman. We were at her home one day when
she showed me a royalty check that'd she'd recenty received from RCA. I
think that it was for approximately $40. As far as I know, she only
recorded 3 sides for Victor in '34 (from Revenge With Music) of which two
were issued, so I assume that the check covered the reissue of "You And The
Night And The Music" in one of the Vintage LP compilation.
This tidbit provides at least one sample that I can cite.
In the case of Jolie's Brunswicks, I'll bet that Vivendi would have
obligations, at least commencing in '26. In '76 I had some dealings with
United Artists and AT &T pertaining to the 50th Aniiversary of Vitaphone.
Jolson, and or some business manager stipulated royalties that might arise
from methods of then unanticipated use!. I don't recall if any family
members were beneficiaries, but some charities certainly were.
A theoretical way around the legalistic 'black hole' would be for a
potential liscensee to the copyright holder. However, I'm sure that'd cost
the liscensee legal and insrance fess that'd no doubt be so substantial as
to preclude use of the stuff anyway.
I wonder if there's a principle in law (am I thinking of the historical
concept of benign neglect?) that if a liscense holder has lost its copies
of contracts and have thusly not done due diligence to protect its interests
and obligations, that such materials could 'lapse' into public domain. In
the case of known estates, (i.e. Duke Ellington, Rogers & Hammerstein, Bob
Hope, Bing Crosby, Jolson) I assume that they could get copies of the
agreements from such third parties.