Oldies But Goodies: Rejuvenating Cylinder Recordings

by Tamera H. BennettJune 25, 2007

Fortunately for our generation, and those to come, there are folks with a passion to not only preserve the recorded music of the late 1800's-1900's, but to also introduce new listeners to these amazing recordings.

Many of the recordings from this time period have been lost forever because the master recordings have been destroyed or are in a music vault collecting dust.

NPR has a wonderful article on Archeophone Records, a small label that is run out of a house in Illinois. Archeophone has released 40 CDs, some focusing on individual styles and periods, others devoted to specific performers. In 2006 the label received a Grammy for best historical album.

Music CD's/sound recordings are an interesting bird when it comes to protection of the work under the law. Works created on or after February 15, 1972 are protected by U.S. Federal Copyright Laws. Works created prior to that time, which clearly include the focus of Archeophone, are protected by state laws. Throughout the years, states have enacted criminal copyright infringement laws for copying pre '72 works.

When you consider works from the 1800's and the first decade of the 1900's, the underlying musical composition has passed into the public domain, meaning no royalty would be paid to a music publisher or songwriter for selling a CD that includes that particular song. If the songs are in the public domain, does that mean the sound recording, the physical recording of the song, may also be freely distributed without compensation to the record label (or its assignee) that created the sound recording?

The highest court in New York ruled in 2005 that New York state common law copyright for sound recordings grants copyright protection in perpetuity. This means, a master license fee should be paid to the copyright holder for the ability to reproduce the sound recording, no matter how long ago the original recording was made.

Hopefully, the fees will be minimal so that preservation will be encouraged.

Learn more about preservation projects through the University of California. Also, run a web search on "music preservation project" for many interesting links.