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MMD > Archives > March 1998 > 1998.03.22 > 16Prev  Next

The Law & Pirating Music Rolls, Then and Now
By Matthew Caulfield

Robert Perry poses this question:

> Would re-editing QRS and other companies' rolls, to add many
> extra notes, and releasing them on your own company's label without
> credit, be legal, and/or an effective way of getting around
> mechanical music copyrights in the 1920s?

There were _no_ mechanical music copyrights under U.S. (Federal) law
until the enactment of the Copyright Act of 1976.  Before that the sole
protection obtainable for mechanical music (music rolls, phonograph
records, tape recordings, etc.) was under the various state laws of the
individual 48 (50) states, with no comprehensive remedy for infringe-
ment available in a Federal court that would be enforceable in all the
states.  That's why music pirates had a field day, bootlegging recorded
music in one state until that state's courts caught up with them, then
moving to another state and starting over until caught there.

The Copyright Act of 1976, desiring to put a stop to that piracy,
extended copyright protection to all future sound recordings and
additionally -- the important point for most of us here --
grandfathered protection for all existing sound recordings until the
year 2048.

In the year 2048 all sound recording made before 1978 (the effective
date of the Copyright Act of 1976) will fall into the public domain and
no Federal law or state law or common law protection will be available
to them.  But until 2048, watch out, if you are thinking of copying a
sound recording.

Unfortunately, what Bob proposes -- adding a few embellishments here
and there -- constitutes editing, and thereby use of someone else's
protected work, and is a violation of copyright, if done without
permission of the copyright owner.  I don't know whether that same
principle obtains in the case of grandfathered existing sound
recordings or not, but my guess is that it does.

Matthew Caulfield

(Message sent Sun 22 Mar 1998, 17:13:02 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Law, Music, Now, Pirating, Rolls, Then

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