While thinking about public domain jazz recordings, I came across a very interesting (and depressing) article about public domain music on a public domain information site. I have no idea whether this is true. But actually it does make sense. To qualify for inclusion in the public domain, you would need to demonstrate provenance and/or edition. With certain phonographs, that might be difficult (and I can guess that the most pristine versions would be closely guarded by collectors and copyright owners). Also, you’d need to do the digitalization/restoration yourself. (I need to double check this).
Records, cassettes, CD’s, and other music recordings come under a general category called Sound Recordings or Phonorecords. Before 1972, sound recordings were not protected by copyright law, but by a hodge-podge tangle of state laws. This problem was fixed with the 1972 copyright act and extended by the 1998 twenty year copyright extension. Different copyright experts have offered very different complicated explanations, but all agree that all sound recordings essentially are under copyright protection until the year 2067. So here is the one sentence you need to remember:
Sound Recording Rule of Thumb:
There are NO sound recordings in the Public Domain.
There are, of course, exceptions to everything, and there really are some PD sound recordings. However, the federal and state laws are so tangled and complicated, it is extremely difficult to do confident sound recording PD research. There are several U.S. web sites claiming that sound recordings made in the United States prior to February 15, 1972, are in the public domain, and there are links to U.S. Copyright Office publications stating: “Sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, are not eligible for Federal copyright protection.” We have had this reviewed independently by several attorneys across the U.S. Each has confidently and independently told us that between federal and state copyright protection, virtually all sound recordings are protected until the year 2067.