Library Of Congress Hoping To Cut Through Tangled Copyright Laws In Order To Archive Historic Sound Recordings

from the good-luck-with-that dept

The copyright laws governing sound recordings are a mess, especially here in the US. The steady march of copyright protection towards perpetuity hasn't helped, extending protection on original recordings to the point where archiving decaying media is generally perceived to border on impossible.

In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release. Once that happens, anyone can reissue them, which makes it easy for Europeans to purchase classic records of the past. In America, by contrast, sound recordings are "protected" by a prohibitive snarl of federal and state legislation whose effect was summed up in a report issued in 2010 by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress: "The effective term of copyright protection for even the oldest U.S. recordings, dating from the late 19th century, will not end until the year 2067 at the earliest.… Thus, a published U.S. sound recording created in 1890 will not enter the public domain until 177 years after its creation, constituting a term of rights protection 82 years longer than that of all other forms of audio visual works made for hire."
We've discussed this problem here before. For instance, an entire library of 1930's jazz recordings is locked up at the National Jazz Museum, available for listening by "appointment only." While it's being archived in an effort to preserve it, the recordings themselves cannot be accessed otherwise by the general public. Other works aren't even that lucky. Historic audio recordings are degrading and disappearing, but the twisted maze of copyright laws governing these recordings has thwarted archival efforts. The Library of Congress, our nation's largest archive, is hoping to prevent this from happening. Following up on its study on sound recording preservation from 2010, the Library has narrowed down the aspects of American copyright law that will need to change if this national archival plan is to become a reality.
As part of its preservation plan for sound recording, the Library of Congress has made three common-sense recommendations for copyright reform:

• "Bring sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, under federal copyright law."
• "Enable recordings whose copyright owners cannot be identified or located to be more readily preserved and accessed legally."
• "Revise section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 in order to facilitate preservation and expand public access to sound recordings."
Bringing all recordings under federal law will (unbelievably) result in more of these works becoming public domain. A tangle of ancient state laws is to blame for the 177-year waiting period, although several legislative extensions of copyright length hasn't helped.

A call for archiving of orphan works is rarely greeted with enthusiasm by proponents of the copyright industry -- unless its their idea, in which case they're more than willing to go right ahead and monetize unclaimed creations. But the moment anyone starts talking about "archiving" these works, hackles get raised and the word "exploitation" starts getting thrown around. So, that's another hurdle the Library of Congress will have to leap.

Finally, Section 108 is in desperate need of revision. Its current wording limits access to any digital copies to "library premises," making uploading these to a publicly accessible website infringement. This limitation ignores the reality of a digitally connected world and limits access to this sort of archive solely to those who can visit the actual "premises."

Despite the importance of this work, it seems unlikely this will get off the ground anytime soon, if it happens at all. As the Wall Street Journal articles points out, given the current state of our economy (among other things), it's hard to believe the administration will make this a priority.

Beyond that, there's nothing in it for the copyright industry. As the laws stand now, it can control these works for well over one hundred years, even if "controlling" the catalog means little more than simply preventing others from releasing these works, either commercially or non-commercially. In these cases, copyright "protection" feels more like "protectionism," allowing the incumbents to maintain the status quo with a minimum of expense or effort. And if there's one thing incumbents like, it's more of the same, something the Library of Congress' plans would alter.

It's a fight worth fighting but it's highly doubtful the Library will find the allies it needs at this point. But one wonders why this fight even needs to be a fight? After all, as the article points out, books lapse into the public domain all the time and as they do, new publishers craft new copies, thus ensuring the work simply doesn't degrade and disappear. Copyright protection that extends far past the vanishing point is only hurting our cultural history. The recording industry may be concerned about preserving its legacy, but every move its made up to this point has been entirely about self-preservation. Hopefully an effort like this will be greeted with enthusiasm rather than reticence by the rights holders.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 8:47pm

    I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    in the previous 'teens, but most vintage stuff is FINE if kept locked up -- almost no one living today can stand it, actually. (Henry Lauder was a famous singing and joking Scotchman, back when seeing a real live kilt-wearing Scots in America was a novelty. Sort of the performing monkey of the day.)

    Anyhoo, as last time: if copyright keeps JAZZ locked up until we're all dead, that's enough positive to make me re-consider these length of terms as too short.

    You'd do better trying to rein in CURRENT "industry" on prices and obscene levels of returns. I understand that even epics like "Star Wars" still haven't made a profit, and if you'd pitch your screeds to Populist anger over such obvious cheating, you'd do better than with this dry technical stuff over antiques.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 8:50pm

    We should just demand that congress abolish copy'right' law, at least until the industries go bankrupt and die. Then maybe we can restart and have some decent laws. I'm sick and tired of these laws and, really, I don't want them at all. I don't care what this does to the copy'right' cartels and don't these politicians dare keep lying and claiming that this is about the artists or authors. It's only about the revolving door and campaign contributions and that's the only reason these laws are being supported. Abolish them.

     

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  3.  
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    hidden words, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 8:54pm

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    in the previous 'teens, but most vintage stuff is FINE if kept locked up -- almost no one living today can stand it, actually. (Henry Lauder was a famous singing and joking Scotchman, back when seeing a real live kilt-wearing Scots in America was a novelty. Sort of the performing monkey of the day.)

    Anyhoo, as last time: if copyright keeps JAZZ locked up until we're all dead, that's enough positive to make me re-consider these length of terms as too short.

    You'd do better trying to rein in CURRENT "industry" on prices and obscene levels of returns. I understand that even epics like WHAT THE FU## IS THIS anger over such obvious cheating, you'd do better than with this dry technical stuff over antiques

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:00pm

    But but but we need to protect these artists and make sure they get paid. You're not against the artists are you? Even if no one knows who they are. I mean if we did know who they were they would theoretically be getting paid right? You wouldn't archive a car would you? Copying these decaying works to save them from oblivion would just devalue their worth.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:07pm

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    "People don't want to enjoy vintage stuff because they aren't enjoying vintage stuff. Nevermind they don't have access to vintage stuff."

    "I don't like something so no one else should get to."

    "Hand-waving. Focus on recent things so that old stuff can be left to die so we don't have to worry about it being liberated."

     

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  6.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:13pm

    They are the Library of Congress and they have a mandate to archive anything and everything they can get their paws on. Why doesn't the head Librarian just say "F You!" and archive it anyway? What are they going to do.. sue the government for doing their job?

     

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  7.  
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    Nathan F (profile), Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:13pm

    They are the Library of Congress and they have a mandate to archive anything and everything they can get their paws on. Why doesn't the head Librarian just say "F You!" and archive it anyway? What are they going to do.. sue the government for doing their job?

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:21pm

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    So first you whine that new things can't copy old things and now you're ranting about old things being horrible? Make up your own damn mind, out_of_the_asscrack. Or would you like to file a report to the department of Education, demanding a ban on history since it mentions copyrighted material?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:42pm

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    So... if I need to do a report on music in the early 20th or late 19th century I should drive to a museum or pay some company that probably did not actually own the rights to the recordings to use them?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 9:43pm

    Re:

    Maybe if they rose from the dead... but then I think we'd have other issues than paying them.

     

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  11.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Mar 18th, 2013 @ 11:04pm

    Why don't they just ignore the law like everyone else in government does?

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 18th, 2013 @ 11:27pm

    Re: Re:

    I bet the cartels would still find a reason not to pay them if they all rose and demanded to be paid.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 12:06am

    Library of Congress ought to be immune to copyright lawsuits

    Good idea above. Why not explicitly give LoC sovereign immunity for these sorts of archival matters? The recordings may not have contemporary commercial value, but they might someday, or be of other interest in the future. Lost is lost.

    And this ancient state copyright stuff ought to be done away with. I don't think *anyone* (Patry included) *really* understands it.

     

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  14.  
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    Violated (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 1:39am

    Agreed

    I would hope the Library of Congress is successful when preserving our media history is important.

    Yes the US system on audio copyright is a total mess where the EU running a fixed 50 year limit is blissful by comparison.

    US copyright always depresses me when at a young age you can see something new out, along with obtaining ideas how to make it much better, but you would be long dead before it ever hits the public domain to be able to do so.

     

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  15.  
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    Violated (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 1:44am

    Re:

    No sovereign immunity to be able to do so meaning copyright holders could sue them.

    I also don't think it would help for a national library to become a pit of corruption. So leave that for the real parasites in Congress and the Administration.

     

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  16.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 1:49am

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    "Anyhoo, as last time: if copyright keeps JAZZ locked up until we're all dead, that's enough positive to make me re-consider these length of terms as too short."

    I will have you know, sonny jim, that there is no finer music than 1920s and 30s Jazz, Swing and Blues. I will take that over the diarrhea spewed forth by major record labels any day.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 2:48am

    Re:

    You wouldn't archive a car would you?

    Museums do it all the time, and some enthusiasts do magnificent work restoring old cars. see London to Brighton car run

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 2:51am

    Re:

    They have archived the original recordings, the problem is they want to make new copies and let people use them.

     

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  19.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 3:05am

    Might a simple short term fix be to give the LoC the DUTY to keep the content on file in their archives safe and secure?

    While they can waste time debating copyright lengths and orphan works as long as they damn well want, just cut out a clear role. You will archive every damn thing to preserve it, and nothing can stop you from doing that important work.

    It attempts to stop the world from losing things forever while corporations scream that they should have 3000 years to extract every cent from the material. If the LoC can't be allowed to preserve items submitted to it, it isn't a library.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 3:15am

    Re: Re: Re:

    they could probably even justify it, actually ( prove you were the person who created it- wouldn't want fraud, after all)

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 3:27am

    short-term fix, for preservation's sake: mandate a copy of any work under copyright to be provided to the LoC, to be maintained in the most common format of the day.

    long-term fix: shorten copyright terms.

     

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  22.  
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    Harry Payne, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 5:05am

    Cliff's Law

    In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release.


    That was the case until Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney, Bono and other impoverished artists struggling in garrets across Europe realised that they could no longer sit on their arses and collect fees for something they did 50 years ago, unlike nearly everyone else who has to work for a living. So it's now 70 years.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 5:28am

    Re: Cliff's Law

    No wonder bono seems like such a piece of crap. 50 years is actually a somewhat reasonable length for copyright

     

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  24.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 6:06am

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    Wow...I mean wow. Blue, you've done it again. You've surprised me again with your completely insane ramblings.

    So...because you personally don't like jazz that means its fine that it gets locked up, away from everyone else? Talk about a big ego. Hopefully you are aware that there are other people who exist on this planet (or maybe the reason your ramblings are so insane is that you believe you are the only person on this planet, the sole centre of existence, and everyone else is just a figment of your imagination, thus you don't have to worry one iota about what they might want or need).

    The point of copyright, as originally established, was to create works of art and science. Here, we have works of art, musical recordings, that are being physically degraded. No-one wants to try and copy them, back them up, because doing so is a crime that merits burning on a cross (its not enough that you're nailed onto the cross, you have to burn to). Once the works degrade enough...they're gone. Forever. There will be no way of bringing them back.
    And you're OK with that? That important works of art will be gone literally forever.

     

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  25.  
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    Nick, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 8:26am

    50 years

    50 years would be MORE than enough to then make the work public. By that time, the artist/family/label has made 99% of the profits they will ever make on the work. At that point it's time to go ahead and archive it and let it be in the public domain. There's also nothing stopping the original family/label from still putting it out there and labeling it as "the one and only original".

     

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  26.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 10:12am

    Re: 50 years

    I'd say max it out at 50 in increments of 10. Ie: you get the copyright for 10 years then you can renew it up to 5 times paying an ever increasing fee based on a percentage of total revenue. Sounds fair. The money would be used to fund public domain repositories.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 19th, 2013 @ 11:10am

    Re: I'm sure we all enjoyed Henry Lauder singing "Loch Lomond",

    I have two words to refute everything you've said in your entire post: Blues Brothers.

     

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  28.  
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    Colin (profile), Mar 19th, 2013 @ 12:25pm

    Re: 50 years

    I would think that a more reasonable test for copyright would be whether someone is still producing and selling a work. We have all these pro business people telling us all the time that "the market" (whatever that is) does the best job of determining whether something is economically viable...if business can't make money off something any more (or is unwilling to) and shows it by abandoning the work then perhaps that is the time to let the public domain have at it.

     

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  29.  
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    Philly Bob (profile), Mar 20th, 2013 @ 2:35am

    Re: Re: 50 years

    You have a better chance of seeing Christ.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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