Sound recordings and copyright: The sound of silence

The American rules infuriate scholars, archivists, musicians and the conservationists who preserve fragile recordings. They fret that by the time the recordings become available, many will be beyond salvation. Some wax cylinders and discs, metal tape, vinyl records and other formats have already begun disintegrating or are slag. The permission to disseminate material???at least for academic use and licensing???could lead to more money for its conservation. As things stand, some institutions are chary about digitising works for fear of potential liability.

Under the current regime, those who wish to listen to recorded music held exclusively in a particular collection must travel there in person. That is the case even if digital or other copies have been made, unless the rightsholder is found and express permission obtained to use them. As for the originals, institutions are often reluctant to proffer them even in the controlled setting since the physical media risk deteriorating beyond repair if played too frequently.

Unreal. More and more of these are becoming unplayable every day. It’s pretty unreal that we’re fretting over who owns rights to 90-year old records.

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