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MMD > Archives > June 2012 > 2012.06.07 > 07Prev  Next

Music Rolls and U.S. Copyright Law
By Matthew Caulfield

In the 120605 MMD Bryan Cather mentions changes to copyright law that
occurred during the 1920s that applied to sound recordings.  These
changes are a mystery to me.  My understanding of copyright law is that
the Copyright Act of 1909 did not apply to sound recordings and that
hence there was no Federal protection given to music rolls of any kind.

The Copyright Act of 1909 was the governing law until 1976, remaining
virtually unchanged until a movement began in 1962 to amend it and
eventually replace it with a totally new law, the Copyright Act of
1976.  See "Notable Dates in United States Copyright" on this U.S.
Copyright Office web site: 

The only protection given to sound recordings was that which might be
secured under the various State laws and under common law principles.
In this chaotic situation piracy was rampant, pirates easily escaping
prosecution in State courts by moving across a State line and setting
up a fresh operation in another state.

Thus it wasn't until the Copyright Act of 1976 (preceded by various
interim Congressional acts in the 1970's, notably by the Act effective
Feb. 15, 1972, extending limited copyright protection to sound
recordings) that sound recording piracy was made a Federal crime, under
which pirates could be prosecuted in Federal courts and thus put out of
business once and for all.

I would like to see some of the 1920's changes mentioned by Bryan as
contributing to the demise of the music roll industry.  I don't believe
there were any on the national level.

Matthew Caulfield
Irondequoit, New York

(Message sent Thu 7 Jun 2012, 15:57:18 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Copyright, Law, Music, Rolls, U.S

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