Copyright and Related Issues Relevant to Digital Preservation and Dissemination of Unpublished Pre-1972 Sound Recordings by Libraries and Archives

June M. Besak

March 2009, 85 pages, ISBN 978-1-932326-32-1. Council on Library and Information Resources, 1752 N Street NW, Suite 800, Washington, DC, 20036, 202-939-4750,

This report addresses the question of what libraries and archives are legally empowered to do to preserve and make accessible for research their holdings of unpublished pre-1972 sound recordings. (The year 1972 is significant because most sound recordings made before then are covered by a patchwork of state laws, rather than by federal copyright law.) Unpublished sound recordings are those created for private use, or even for broadcast, but that have not been distributed to the public in copies with the right holder's consent. Examples include tapes of live musical performances or of interviews conducted as part of field research or news gathering. Such recordings may find their way into library and archive collections through donations or purchase; some may be the only record of a particular performance or event, and therefore may have considerable cultural and historical significance.

The report's author, June M. Besek, is executive director of the Kernochan Center for Law, Media and the Arts at Columbia Law School. Using examples of specific types of sound recordings, Besek (1) describes the different bodies of law that protect pre-1972 sound recordings, (2) explains the difficulty in defining the precise contours of the law, and (3) provides guidance for libraries evaluating their activities with respect to unpublished pre-1972 sound recordings.


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