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Government Music United States

Why Recordings From World War I Aren't Public Domain 329

Posted by samzenpus
from the that-old-timey-sound dept.
An anonymous reader writes "While Disney and others have done a great job pushing the end date for works entering the public domain ever further forward, most people have assumed that anything from before 1923 is in the public domain. However, it turns out that this is not true for sound recordings, in part due to an accidental quirk in copyright law history — in that Congress, way back in 1909, believed that sound recordings could not be covered by copyright (they believed the Constitution did not allow recordings to be covered), and thus, some state laws stepped up to create special copyrights for sound recordings. A court ruling then said that these state rules were not overruled by federal copyright law. End result? ANY recorded work from before 1972 (no matter how early it was recorded) won't go into the public domain until 2049 at the earliest."
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Why Recordings From World War I Aren't Public Domain

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  • Guiltless pirate. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:12AM (#33148610)

    Every time I start to feel a shred of guilt about my rampant piracy, I read something like this. Then the guilt goes away. Copyright is a corrupt system, which no longer serves it's original purpose of promoting production of useful art. Instead it is nothing but a mechanism to ensure maximum profits for those least deserving, and to make sure that the public domain remains small and legally dangerous enough to pose no serious competition. I pay copyright law no respect, and will not do so unless it it reformed to bring it back in line with sensible terms, make it less biased towards those who can afford millions of dollars in legal fees and eliminate the possibility of copyright being abused as a tool to censor criticism or prevent interoperability.

  • Wilhelm Scream (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:19AM (#33148642)

    So any movie using the Wilhelm Scream are also breaking copyrights? There go a *lot* of big Hollywood movies!

  • Business as usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:21AM (#33148656) Journal

    I'm going to continue doing what I normally do, and ignore copyright law. Absurdities like this just show how backwards and useless the system is. Scrap it, make everything public domain.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:23AM (#33148672)

    Copyright existed, and should exist, to allow an individual to profit from their creation. It has not a damned thing to do with producing useful art.

    Whoops, somebody forgot to read the Constitution.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:26AM (#33148694)

    A law passed in Ohio applies in Ohio, not in Iowa.

    To be captured by an Ohio copyright, a recording would have to be made in Ohio and copied in Ohio. A recording made in Ohio and copied in Iowa wouldn't count.

    I don't think this is much of a problem.

  • by houghi (78078) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:27AM (#33148700)

    Well, I indeed use it as an excuse for theft. I go into the store and steal the DVDc, CDs and books I want. I even steal the DVD players and TV sets to use them. That way when somebody raids my house and sees I have about 10.000 CDs and DVDs that where stolen, I will be paying much less then somebody who did some copyright infringement of 3 numbers on their mp3 player from an album they bought.

  • A better Congress? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:40AM (#33148780) Homepage

    According to one commentator, Congress had two principal concerns about sound recordings, leading it to decline to protect them. First, Congress wondered about the constitutional validity of such protection. The Constitution allows Congress to protect "writings," and Congress was uncertain as to whether a sound recording could constitute a writing. Second, Congress worried that allowing producers to exclusively control both the musical notation and the sound recording could lead to the creation of a music monopoly.

  • by ThePangolino (1756190) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @07:50AM (#33148852) Homepage
    The more you ignore it, the cooler you look!
    Yep, somtimes it's true!
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:09AM (#33149010)

    While I don't think it's a blanket justification for piracy (some people actually DESERVE copyright protections), I have to sympathize. I used to teach a class that dealt briefly with copyright. At one time, I thought all the "Author plus 70 years, different in x circumstances" formulas. But in the late 90's I just simplified it to "If it's not public domain right now, it never will be" and left it at that.

    And call me mean, but I'm glad Sonny Bono hit that fucking tree. I just hope there is a special place in hell for Disney slaves [wikipedia.org].

  • by linebackn (131821) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:12AM (#33149040)

    That's right, copyright is STEALING! It is stealing history and culture from future generations. It is stealing from the global knowledge of humanity. Not just infringed upon; information is locked up until it rots in to nothingness.

    I have no specific desire to take control of mickey-frikkin-mouse away from the Walt Disney Corporation, or similar works from their holders. But I believe the original idea of copyright was to benefit humanity by encouraging people to create more works by granting an author the PRIVILEGE to control how their work was distributed for a limited time.

    However, if a holder does not ultimately contribute something back to humanity in exchange for this privilege, then they are literally stealing from humanity.

    The current system effectively prevents these works from continuing to benefit and enrich humanity after they are out of print by failing to permit works from entering the public domain in a timely manner if ever. This needs to be fixed.

    For a person or entity to retain control over a work indefinitely, such as current laws essentially permit, is STEALING from humanity.

  • Re:Wilhelm Scream (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JonnyCalcutta (524825) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:14AM (#33149066)
    You wouldn't break into his garage and steal his car, would you?

    Yes
  • by radish (98371) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:23AM (#33149124) Homepage

    You know what? If you said you disagreed with traditional copyright and so would only listen to copyleft/public domain music, and use open source software, etc, then I'd have a lot of respect for you. But saying you disagree with the mechanism by which a creator has chosen to be compensated and yet still choosing to benefit from their work, well that just makes you a freeloading cheapass.

  • by TheLink (130905) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:37AM (#33149228) Journal

    Pay? In the UK you might even get a flat rent free:

    Bradley Wernham, 19, responsible for a £1million crime spree, was spared a prison sentence last October after police told a judge he had turned his life around.
    Wernham was given a community service order instead and relocated to another town where he was given a flat rent-free.

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/08/05/one-man-crimewave-bradley-wernham-jailed-by-the-judge-who-let-him-off-115875-22465784/ [mirror.co.uk]
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/7926040/Prolific-burglar-given-second-chance-offends-again-after-three-months.html [telegraph.co.uk]

  • by horza (87255) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:40AM (#33149252) Homepage

    The individual artist should be able to profit from their work for the rest of their life.

    Why? I can invent something that saves people's lives and get protection for 20 years under patent law, but some crappy pop song should get protection for the rest of that person's life? Something is wrong there. Why not make it a fixed length of 20 years also?

    When you say "should be able to profit" you mean of course be granted a legal monopoly. An artist can profit from their work without any legal protection.

    Phillip.

  • by Totenglocke (1291680) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:43AM (#33149276)

    The individual artist should be able to profit from their work for the rest of their life.

    Why? The rest of us actually have to work - we don't get to show up for a few weeks and then say "You have to pay me for the rest of my life for that work". Giving them a few years of copyright to make money off of it, sure, I'm fine with that. However, it's BS for them to get paid to sit back and do nothing for 60+ years because once upon a time, they wrote a few songs.

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:47AM (#33149302) Journal

    ...something brand new.

    No such thing. There are only unique combinations of what already exists. And more often than not, more than one person will independently come up with the same combination, which only further illustrates the absurdity of copyright, patent, and trademark law...

  • by countertrolling (1585477) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:56AM (#33149384) Journal

    ...should be able to profit from their work for the rest of their life.

    Then I'm entitled to the same benefits. I want mileage royalties on every car I fixed back in 1973 for the rest of my life. A penny per mile will be sufficient...

  • by blindbat (189141) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @08:59AM (#33149416)

    Uh huh. And then everything you make, whether software or a book you write, will be taken by some big corporation and sold by them.

    Copyright needs to be in place in order to protect the newcomers and the original creator of a work so that they can make a living.

  • by Tacvek (948259) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:01AM (#33149438) Journal

    Now, combine this understanding with the fact that most copyrighted products generate most of their income in the first few years after publication, or even less, and you realise that a copyright term of more than a few years has no benefits to society. It almost exclusively does harm, by preventing values to be produced for free.

    I would have little problem with a 14 year copyright term. The worry with short copyright terms is that too many people may just wait until the term expired, so that they could get the work for free. Consider a shorter term of 7 years. It is feasible in some media, books especially, to wait 7 years to buy and read the book. Commercial exploitation of a franchise in a different media can often wait that long, such as a filmmaker waiting to adapt a book into a movie if it let them completely cut the book's authors out of the equation.

    But 14 years is long enough that in the vast majority of media few people would find it worth waiting, if they could afford to buy it. Futhermore, by 14 years works in almost every medium have all but exhausted their profit making potential.

    Music is actually the odd one out here, considering the money songs from the 80's or earlier can still bring in, be it by royalties by the "oldies" stations, and continual sales of albums. Granted though that even here, the overwhelming majority of the profit should have been made in the first year or so, when the song was popular, so cutting off the revenue at 14 years is still within reason.

    It is interesting to think about what would be now be in the public domain for computers/tech with a 14 year copyright limit. The clasic NES-era video games would be in the public domain, as well as many of the 16-bit era classics. Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 (but just barely, so Microsoft could withhold the patches later released for both OS's, if they wanted), and thus also MS-DOS and the older Windows. Pretty much all the software for older historic machines, be it the VAX, or the C64. All the classic UNIXs, .... The list is just astounding.

  • by operagost (62405) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:05AM (#33149478) Homepage Journal

    Now, combine this understanding with the fact that most copyrighted products generate most of their income in the first few years after publication, or even less, and you realise that a copyright term of more than a few years has no benefits to society. It almost exclusively does harm, by preventing values to be produced for free.

    Can I summarize your entire post to, "We should return copyright protection in the USA to 14 years with a 14 year extension as in the 1790 Copyright Act"?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:05AM (#33149480)

    So artists shouldn't have property rights? I've already been told by a lawyer that existing contracts I have over a recent work shouldn't have existed because generally artists in my business aren't allowed to retain rights to their work. Translation it's okay for companies to own and profit from those rights but not artists. Now I'm being told those rights shouldn't have existed in the first place? Now how exactly am I supposed to make a living if I don't have any rights to sell? We don't generally have patrons like in the old days and the other option of being born rich I seem to have missed out on. Back in the day mostly the rich wrote novels and most paintings were commissioned by the rich so they chose the content of the work. Is society better off if only the rich write books and commission great works of art? Aren't we better off with a system that rewards the creation of works that benefit all than a system that denies artists basic rights of property? The argument isn't as simple as getting free books, music and movies it's about whether the vast majority of the work is created or made public in the first place. I'm already so sickened by my recent legal battle I'm planning to retire soon and not release any future work to the public. Is society better off if most artists do the same?

  • by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:10AM (#33149508)

    Copyright existed, and should exist, to allow an individual to profit from their creation. It has not a damned thing to do with producing useful art

    In reality of course the whole point of copyright was to promote works of art and scientific discoveries. In the US this purpose is even spelled outright in the Constitution where it reads: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.".

    The Founding Fathers (Jefferson particularly [uchicago.edu] ) were very uneasy about granting effective monopoly to authors at the expense of the general public and so they sought to allow it only if the general public benefited from such an arrangement more then it had to invest (in terms of enforcing such a law).

  • Your attempt at insight aside, the limited time span of Copyright is designed to increase the availability of the arts to everyone in the long run by creating a temporary monopoly on a work for profit to be gained so as to encourage the creation of works that will end up in the public domain eventually.

    The goal is to have all of this creativity available to everyone for free, that's the destiny of the work. The temporary profiteering is allowed to encourage creativity from people who are monetarily driven.

    Libraries bypass this system by actually purchasing works and then making them available free, entirely bypassing the intent of Copyright to our benefit.

  • Re:That's a shame. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:22AM (#33149612)

    No, we're not bound by foreign laws when on UK ground.

    Tell that to Gary McKinnon (still fighting?), the people who ran a gambling site in the UK (that didn't prevent americans from using it), various dodgy bankers...

    I dread the day when I get summonsed to appear in a court in east texas to get sent to federal PMITA prison for the crime of "programming" (its bound to be breaking someones software patents isn't it?). That is the primary reason for opposing the unfair extradition treaty - it could be you next that gets "rendered" to get raped in the US penal system.

  • This 'times' or no more or less creatively starved then any other time.
    Get back under your bridge you damn troll.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:43AM (#33149878) Homepage

    You want to ensure that your great-grandchildren have a roof over their heads? Encourage your children to tell their children to study hard in school, learn a useful trade, and get a job, so they can provide for their children. You're not supposed to have to pay for that yourself.

    When did the establishment of a hereditary leisure class become a social good?

  • by rbochan (827946) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:47AM (#33149932) Homepage

    Personally, I'm all for people not breaking just laws. Unjust laws, well, knock yourself out.

  • Re:That's a shame. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:59AM (#33150110)

    "Arse".

    Because he's a pussy.

  • by crossmr (957846) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:12AM (#33150290) Journal

    Can you prove that anyone who made those recordings actually chose to put them under this system? I don't anyone recording something in WWI really gave two shits about copyright when they recorded it and created it.

  • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:25AM (#33150482) Homepage

    You assume they would renewe only if that specific work were to generate enough income.

    They would be pay as long is it is economically viable to block freeing it; in relation to rest of the portfolio.

  • Re:My solution... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by night_flyer (453866) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:37AM (#33151444) Homepage

    I could care less about Mickey. It's all the music, art and books that are way less "popular" that are hiding in vaults that the public eye will never see again because they are under copyright (by corporations), but at the same time, not cost effective to keep on the shelves.

  • This. I made the same comment in another story [slashdot.org] just yesterday. When you make something or provide a service to the community, you get paid for it. Society says, "thanks for doing that". That money is your influence within that community. The more good you do for the community, the more money/influence you have.

    How the hell do you justify being able to pass on that influence to your kids? That doesn't benefit your community in any way. If you pass on the ability to do what you did - a skill, a trade, etc., then that helps. If you give them nothing beneficial to give back to that community, and the ability to influence it in negative ways, it's a social evil. It doesn't help the community you live in in any shape or form.
  • by Mathinker (909784) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:02PM (#33151682) Journal

    > So seeing that I am probably the only person that has this copyrighted material

    Your case underlines the bizarre "logic" of modern copyright law. Since you own the media, it is perfectly legal for you to destroy the recordings, which would, of course, destroy the "property" of the rightsholders (since they are the only copy). One wonders how that weird edge case fits into the "you wouldn't steal" rhetoric.

    On the other hand, it's totally illegal for you to distribute these recordings to anyone except the rightsholders themselves. So it is effectively illegal for you to preserve this work for future generations.

    This is why I do not feel bad in the least to advise you to digitize the recordings and upload them to some filesharing site like RapidShare or MegaUpload in an anonymous way, and then publicize the sharing link on a web forum where there will be a lot of interested people (I'm sure there must be some web forums where WWI history buffs hang out). Much as I like creators to be able to get paid, I hate even more for culture and information to be lost.

  • Re:That's a shame. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:11PM (#33151782)

    Umm, what is "&#*@" and why can't you use the actual word?

    He can't remember how to spell credenza.

  • by BungaDunga (801391) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:39PM (#33152152)

    "by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

    So, Authors can be given the exclusive right to sell, perform, use, whatever, things they've made or discovered. Cool. Except that right extends beyond the author's death- either to his/her estate, or whatever corporation had been given it.

    What is the Constitutional rationale for rights extending after death? I can't imagine it promoting useful art.

  • by BungaDunga (801391) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:49PM (#33152292)

    Say I've got money from copyright royalties.

    I bankroll my kids' educations.

    They work hard at school, do well, go on to earn money in the real world. Maybe one of them makes money by producing works under copyright.

    By the time THEY have kids, they've got enough money to get them through college. Maybe they inherit some of my money when I'm dead.

    Rinse, repeat.

    No need for inherited copyright.

  • by BlueStrat (756137) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:56PM (#33152388)

    Who gets to decide what the unjust laws are?

    Ultimately, the people themselves do. Governments can pass any laws they like, but if the overwhelming majority of the population chooses to ignore it/them, there is no possible way for a government to enforce said law in any effective way.

    "An unjust law, is no law at all." -Martin Luther King Jr.

    The part about "..is no law at all" is both a moral and practical description when the general population decides to ignore such unjust laws.

    Strat

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