Treasure Trove Of Jazz To Be Blocked, Perhaps Forever, Thanks To Copyright
from the lost-culture dept
MTGlass points us to David Post’s analysis of “the high cost of copyright,” in reference to an article about the inability to make available a treasure trove of classic jazz recordings that the National Jazz Museum just acquired. The problem, of course, is copyright. The museum wants to make all the works available, and jazz afficianados, like Post, are eager to hear the music, but copyright law makes it almost impossible:
Mr. Schoenberg said the museum planned to make as much as possible of the Savory collection publicly available at its Harlem home and eventually online. But the copyright status of the recorded material is complicated, which could inhibit plans to share the music. While the museum has title to Mr. Savory?s discs as physical objects, the same cannot be said of the music on the discs.
“The short answer is that ownership is unclear,” said June M. Besek, executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at the Columbia University School of Law. “There was never any arrangement for distribution of copies” in contracts between performers and radio stations in the 1930s, she explained, “because it was never envisioned that there would be such a distribution, so somewhere between the radio station and the band is where the ownership would lay.”
At 70 years’ remove, however, the bands, and even some of the radio networks that broadcast the performances, no longer exist, and tracking down all the heirs of the individual musicians who played in the orchestras is nearly impossible.
And don’t think these works are going into the public domain any time soon either. As we recently noted, sound recordings are locked away for much longer than other copyrighted works due to some quirks in copyright law.
Post uses this as an example of the “high cost of copyright,” pointing out that many people who first encounter copyright understand the supposed benefits of the monopoly privilege, but it’s more difficult to understand the “cost,” side. Of course, I’d argue that this is more a problem of the fact that people have been taught to believe that copyright is designed to “protect the creator,” rather than the much more accurate fact that it’s supposed to provide for the public. The fact that copyright law is quite clearly getting in the way of this, the intended purpose of the law, suggests that such restrictions are not, in fact, legal. This is a clear case where such a copyright restriction is not “promoting the progress,” at all, and in fact hindering our access to important cultural works — perhaps forever.