The absurdity you refer to is a result of the extremely complicated combination of federal copyright and state anti-piracy laws that cover sound recordings in the US. There have been several valiant attempts to simplify these laws, but to no avail.
To summarize, recordings made after Feb. 14, 1972 are covered by federal copyright law. Recordings made on or before this date are covered by state anti-piracy laws. Each state has a different term of coverage. Some, like New York's, are of indefinite period and it is this indefinite term that prevails as the de facto rule nationwide. These laws remain in effect until Feb. 15, 2067 (formerly 2047), at which point every recording made before Feb. 15, 1972 enters the Public Domain. But this also means that recordings made in the 1880s have been granted an effective copyright coverage term of around 180 years.
As you can see from the archive.org example you link to, these laws are not always strictly obeyed or enforced. But they law remains the law, and every individual or institution has to assess what risks they are willing to take when dealing with pre-1972 sound recordings.
All opinions expressed are personal and in no way represent Library of Congress policy or position.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Sarah Cole
Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 11:48 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recordings of 1920s 78rpm Records - Public Domain?
Thank you all for your very helpful advice, it's much appreciated.
I perhaps should have made it clear that this isn't a proper movie, more of a compilation of 1940s footage, and predominantly for use in schools or suchlike - it will used by a charity and generate no revenue that I can think of.
It seems somewhat absurd that the recordings are public domain in the UK and Europe, but not in America. Out of interest, is it only America where they aren't public domain, or would it vary from country to country?
David, I hope you'll forgive my ignorance - this is really an area I know very little about, but to clarify - do I have to clear the composition through a performance rights agency because although the performance in question is public domain, the composition itself is not?
On 26 June 2012 15:35, David Lewis <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Jubilee Stomp is a Duke Ellington composition, and it is still
> -- along with the rest of the catalog -- by Mills Music Inc., which
> has an office in the UK. The Duke recorded this piece for four different labels.
> The Vocalion version belongs to Universal, and the Victor and Okeh
> versions by Sony/BMG in the US. The Cameo/Pathé version is in a grey
> area; that is part of the ARC legacy that passed to CBS in 1938 but
> some of that property was traded to Decca as part of their purchase of
> Brunswick; no one really knows what went where in that case in terms
> of masters, or even what from Cameo/Pathé may still survive in the
> master space, or survived even in 1938. Probably nothing; even in the
> 1960s, Columbia was using commercial 78s as their source for material
> from that label in reissues. Most clearances from that time regarding
> that label, however, were made through CBS.
> In the UK, all of this is moot, as for the time being these are all
> well behind the copyright curve. But you'd still need to clear the
> composition through a performance rights agency.
> David "Uncle Dave" Lewis
> Lebanon, OH
> On Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 9:49 AM, Wolf, James L <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > Sarah,
> > Tiger Rag is a 1917 composition and thus in the Public Domain. The
> > 1929 Brunswick recording by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra is
> > owned by Universal. Barring any further extentions of copyright
> > terms, it will
> > the Public Domain in 2067. However, in Europe, U.K. and Canada, this
> > recording is already PD.
> > James
> > All opinions are personal and do not reflect Library of Congress
> > policy
> > position.
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List [mailto:
> > [log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Sarah Cole
> > Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 9:07 AM
> > To: [log in to unmask]
> > Subject: [ARSCLIST] Recordings of 1920s 78rpm Records - Public Domain?
> > Hi all,
> > I was hoping someone here might be able to help me with a query
> > relating to the copyright status of digital recordings taken from
> > 1920s 78rpm records, with particular reference to Duke Ellington's
> > early sound recordings.
> > I have downloaded some 1920s pieces of his for a project I am
> > working on; I'd like to use these songs as the soundtrack to a film
> > aimed at
> > children about life in the 1940s, which would likely end up
> > publicly-viewable online but not make any money. All of the pieces I
> > have chosen are listed as public domain on the Internet Archive or elsewhere.
> > These entries, for example, are two of the pieces I would like to use:
> > http://archive.org/details/DukeEllington-TigerRag and
> > http://funfunfunmedia.com/2010/12/duke-ellington-jubilee-stomp-mp3.
> > My problem is this: these websites say that these recordings are
> > public domain, but I am struggling to see how they could be, given
> > that they
> > recorded around (I believe) 1928. My understanding was that music
> > after 1923 was almost certainly copyrighted in the US. Does the fact
> > that these recordings are made from 78rpm records affect their
> > status? And
> > my being UK-based make any difference?
> > I would very grateful indeed if anyone could offer any advice on
> > this matter, as I've been looking everywhere for an answer with no luck.
> > Many thanks,
> > Sarah