Copyright Offices Proposes Federal Protection for Pre-1772 Recordings

The U.S. Copyright Office recently recommended that sound recordings made before February 15, 1972 be brought under federal copyright law. Under the current copyright regime, recordings made before that date are protected under state law.

This has resulted in various, and often unclear, legal protection of pre-1972 sound recordings. There have been many arguments that the current system has hampered efforts to preserve historical sound recordings and make them accessible to the public.

“We believe that bringing pre-1972 sound recordings into the federal copyright system serves the interests of consistency and certainty, and will assist libraries and archives in carrying out their missions while also offering additional rights and protection for sound recording right holders,” Register of Copyrights Maria A. Pallante stated.

Below are a few highlights from the office’s report on Federal Copyright Protection for Pre-1972 Sound Recordings:

  • Federalization would best serve the interest of libraries, archives, and others in preserving old sound recordings and in increasing the availability to the public of old sound recordings.
  • The principal objection offered by certain right holders – that federalizing protection for pre-1972 sound recordings would cast a cloud over existing ownership of rights in those recordings – can be addressed by expressly providing that the ownership of copyright in the sound recording shall vest in the person who owned the rights under state law just prior to the enactment of the federal statute.
  • The term of protection for sound recordings fixed prior to February 15, 1972 should be 95 years from publication or, if the work had not been published prior to the effective date of legislation federalizing protection, 120 years from fixation.
  • In no case would protection continue past February 15, 2067, and
in cases where the foregoing terms would expire before 2067, a right holder may obtain extended protection for any pre-1972 sound recording by making that recording available to the public at a reasonable price and, during a transition period of several years, notifying the Copyright Office of its intention to secure extended protection extended protection.

The full report is available here.

On the other side of the debate, strangely enough, are groups normally on opposite sides, like the RIAA and the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).  They, and other groups in the commercial music industry, are united in their opposition to federal copyright protection of pre-1972 recordings.  Opponents fear possible negative effects on record labels, artists, broadcasters, and publishers from federalization and see no need for change.  These groups don’t want to “upset the apple cart.”

The music industry’s business model depends on the existing system and the proposed changes worry these companies. Federalization could disrupt their businesses by creating doubt about whether the companies own the  rights to the recordings.

The Future of Music Coalition (FMC) argues that bringing sound recordings recorded before February 15, 1972 under federal copyright protection is good for the American public, including musicians, and will not unduly constrain owners of pre-1972 sound recording copyrights.

If you need help sorting out a copyright issue, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation at or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +


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