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----- Original Message -----
From: "Dismuke" <[log in to unmask]>
> A friend of mine is looking into the possibility of privately publishing
> a CD featuring vintage recordings from as early as the 1910s and as late
> as 1936.  The vast majority of the compositions featured on the
> recordings are pre-1923 and, therefore, are in the public domain and not
> subject to the need for mechanical royalties.  The few compositions that
> are post 1923 are European in origin.  Most of the recordings were
> originally released on major American labels such as Victor and
> Columbia.
>
> My understanding is that, in Europe, sound recordings over 50 years old
> are considered to be in the public domain and, therefore, getting
> permission to reissue the old recordings on CD would not be much of an
> issue if it were being done over there.  My friend, however, is based
> here in the USA and, for obvious reasons, it would be much easier for
> him to publish the recordings here as well.  Is there anyone here who
> could provide information about how he would need to go about obtaining
> necessary permission to include the sound recordings on the CD?  Is this
> usually a matter of just getting an official written ok from someone?
> If so, how difficult it to get and who should one contact?  Or do the
> recording companies typically require a fee based license along the
> lines of what one would pay to organizations such as ASCAP or Harry
> Fox?  If so, are the fees pretty standard or are they negotiated on a
> case by case basis?
>
> In practical terms - do most people who reissue obscure vintage
> recordings here in the USA even bother to seek permission?  What do
> American based reissues labels such as The Old Masters and Take Two do?
> Do they obtain permission for every recording?  Or are they too small
> and is the market for '20s and '30s recordings too marginal for them to
> even show up on the big recording conglomerates' radar screen?
>
> Regarding the European compositions that may still be under copyright,
> would one be able to get mechanical licensing through the Harry Fox
> Agency or would one have to work with a similar organization in Europe?
> Is it possible that the composition could be still in copyright in
> Europe but in the pubic domain in the USA or vice versa?
>
> Any information in this area would be appreciated.
Actually, there are two different considerations here.

First, the recordings themselves are under copyright, owned by the
company who made them or the successor company if such exists. These
copyrights were not issued (or covered under copyright law) until
1972 in the US; as a result the reissue of the material falls under
a morass of state anti-piracy statuates, some of which have no terms
of coverage or expiry dates. For this reason, most reissue labels
either ignore the whole thing (record companies usually don't make
an issue unless it is something they currently sell or plan to,
although this may no longer apply with the RIAA in "attack mode"
and fearful of creating precedents) or set up an operation in
Canada, where the 50-year rule currently applies.

Second, the songs are under different copyrights. This is what you pay
HFA for. These fall under mandatory license (they can't stop you from
the reissue, unlike the record companies discussed above) but there is
still payment that has to be made, and this usually involves a base
payment on each song which covers a fixed amount of sales of your
reissue (IIRC, this is $75/tune and covers 500 or maybe 1000 copies).
These copyright terms depend on the death dates of the composers
involved, and as a result have to be researched individually.
Steven C. Barr