On Fri, 7 Oct 2005, Rod Stephens wrote:
> I've watched the back and forth discussion re: copyrights with much
> interest for a personal reason. During my personal time, I've been
> remastering to CD recordings from 1/4" master tapes that were made from
> 1951 to 1955 at small western college that I attended. In fact, I was a
> member of the choral ensemble that was the subject of the recordings, so
> I guess that would make me one of the artists. Also, the tapes were
> recorded by a local engineer/dairyman (his hobby), and then, used to
> make two commercial releases by Columbia Masterworks. There are about
> three more LPs that were released on Columbia's minor labels (Harmony,
> Epic, etc.).
> I guess I'm asking what the potential sale of these new renditions to
> the public could trigger? Or, is just the private sale to alums legal?
I am not certified to render an opinion, but my own understanding is based
upon personal experience. You would need to see the original contract to
know what rights were given to Columbia. If the rights were exclusive, you
would have to obtain rights from what is now SONY/BMG. I have two
agreements with them, negotiated before the merger. While I don't know the
current situation, their Special Products division can be a good contact
point...our artist knew someone in the organization. If they own rights,
my personal experience is that they will be fair in their per unit
royality...their asking price for an outright purchase of the rights being
cost prohibitive. I should add that my label is a 501c3.
If the contract was for a limited number of issues, or restricted to a
time period, you COULD be free and clear to issue and sell the
recordings...assuming you pay any needed mechanical rights. The contracts
I have with artists give my company exclusivity for five years and are
My guess is that any sale, public or restricted to alumni COULD be
subject to any agreement with Columbia and its current assigns, assuming
they had acquired rights.
If indeed Columbia purchased exclusive rights...my guess is that the
school probably sold them for next to nothing...you could probably get
a license by contacting SONY/BMG contracts. If they want to be paid an arm
and a leg to let you issue the recordings for a fundraising activity...well
I guess you could generate a great deal of sympathetic publicity from such
an action...and maybe, nothing else, but then the publicity might help
with the fundraising...
You mention that your remastering is an improvement...curiously, SONY
could not issue your restoration without your (or the institution who
commissioned your work) approval.
My legal advisor has also suggested that if you don't have a copy of the
contract, and if you write SONY/BMG, making a "reasonable effort" to
contact them, and if you include some statement like "if we do not hear
from you in 90 days..." and, if you are a non-profit...and if it turns out
that they do own the rights...if they do sure you, a court is not likely
to award punitive damages to SONY/BMG...only real damages, predicated on
their typical license agreements.
I am reminded when the Music Publisher's Association sued the Catholic
Diocese of Chicago (my memory might be clouded) for making illegal
photocopies. My recollection was that the Diocese had to cease the
practice and ended up paying real damages...but I have this vague memory
that the original petition called for a payment of $500,000
Perhaps others can share additional light on all of this.