Thanks to the woefully inadequate music modernization act, music will actually start entering the public domain in the united states for the first time in January!

The Citizen DJ site provides a good overview of the situation.

This means that the number of recordings available for study, re-release, remixing, sampling, etc. will increase dramatically.

I want to do *something* to celebrate, and I feel like the good citizens of the fediverse might join me in this?

I'm thinking of hosting some kind of remix competition in January, similar to the public domain game jam that is hosted each year, but I don't have a clear idea beyond wanting to make sure we Do Something with this material.

To be clear, it's only music published more than 100 years ago.

As you can imagine, that's ... Not A Lot Of Music in the grand scheme of things, and most of it will be from the very early dawn of acoustic recordings. They're mostly Acoustic recordings, and many of them are from before we really learned to do acoustic recording well.

That being said, electric recording, with a microphone, existed in the 20s, and the early primal face of what would be called modern music was emerging.

(I did say "Existed" and not "was in use" because ... well, the major recording companies of the 20s acted in a monopolistic and anti-competitive fashion to ensure that Electrically Recorded records were not in wide spread circulation until 1925, so we have to wait until 2025 to get at the first batch of stuff that really sounds like modern music. )

But it's coming! For the first time in the history of recorded sound, the copyright on recordings is expiring.

So dust off your DJ controllers! Get ready to cover classics. Build yourself a rhythm game. We're making music in the 20s.

@ajroach42 There might be a few better reccordings out of Germany, who were pioneering early recording equipment -- mics and iron-oxide tape. Possibly more in the 1930s than 1920s, but still.

I'm tryring to remember who it was that made early recordings of American folk music. Travelled with portable recording equipment. Possibly part of the Federal Music Project? 1930s and 1940s period IIRC. Some of that may also be P.D.

@dredmorbius Allan Lomax.

Copyright around Lomax's work is Complicated. Let me find the excerpt.


> Field recordings of musical performances often have at least three layers of copyright: the collector, the performer, and the songwriter. In this case, the Lomaxes recorded this on behalf of the Library of Congress, thus their work should be in the public domain. But it’s less clear whether performer Bukka White relinquished his rights to the performance, or even if he did, if it was done so transparently and in good faith.

@dredmorbius >Furthermore, like most blues songs, it is very difficult to track down the original songwriter given the ever-evolving, nonlinear, and oral tradition of blues and folk music.

Furthermore, if you dig a little deeper into the Bukka White recording, you’ll learn that it was recorded while White was serving time in Mississippi State Penitentiary, commonly known as Parchman Farm.

@dredmorbius >[...]The recorded performers were likely not compensated for their musical contributions during their lifetime. It is in my opinion, and also the opinion of the staff of the American Folklife Center, that this context matters when thinking about creative reuse of this material. Does this mean you shouldn’t sample it? Unfortunately there’s no easy answers, just many questions.

@dredmorbius That's all taken from here:

on the citizen DJ site, and it's the clearest explanation of the situation I've come across.

@ajroach42 And yes, correct.

For print, I'm aware that copyright was not automatic, and required registration, prior to 1976.

I don't understand phonorecord law as well, and have just run across reference that that was goverened under state law in many instances. But if registration was required, and none was made ... well, that's a possible option.

How much you want to risk that I can't say, of course.

@ajroach42 Yep, that's the one. I was just going to post his Wikipedia bio:

At least some of that work (through 1942) was under the US Library of Congress. How much of that is P.D. I'm not sure.

@dredmorbius Yeah, basically the *recording* is public domain, but the Performance and the Composition got their own copyrights, and the exact details of how that works were changed recently as a result of the Music Modernization Act.

@dredmorbius There's an okay overview of the act here:

but the gist is that it sought to fix the confusion around music copyright (by increasing the copyright term for music recordings to be well beyond the term for anything else, but at least they put a term on it, as opposed to the "forever" term that many states had before this act.)

@ajroach42 NB: I suspect you're considerably better versed on all of this (law, what was being recorded, how, by whom, etc.) than I am. Thanks for your patience.


the Constitution specifies "for a limited time". Many folks here probably well recall that Lessig argued (unsuccessfully) in Eldred v. Ashcroft that the Congress, in extending copyright terms repeatedly, had effectively made copyright unlimited.

I'd never considered that state law, despite its geographical limitations, is not so temporally bound.


@deejoe @dredmorbius originally, music recordings were protected under "interstate commerce" laws, rather than copyright.

@ajroach42 @dredmorbius

that, state laws (common if not also statutory), and the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution, I expect?

the treatment here is pretty sparse, alas

*so* many layers across time and jurisdiction in addition to composition, performance, and production.

My angle into this is that code is a little like music with regard to copyright: It existed before 1976 but how it was treated changed a lot around that same time too.

@dredmorbius @ajroach42

Europeans also widely used cinema film with an optical soundtrack (but the full width of the 16 or 35mm film with much better sound quality) for sound recording.

Magnetic tape recording wasn't widely used for recording musical entertainment (mostly for radio broadcasts, interspersed with political propaganda) until well into the mid 1940s; most of these recordings were subsequently released by Deutsche Grammophon so UMG still have copyright on them!

@vfrmedia @dredmorbius Sony "owns" most of the stuff that is about to hit the public domain.

Except that their archives are ... well, as best as we can tell "woefully incomplete" is the best descriptor.

I probably have as many pre-1923 recordings in my collection as the labels that allegedly own this material.

Having the copyright matter settled means I can release them.

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