Below is a video recorded at the U.S. Copyright Office in early 1987, at an event for staff, where Waldo Moore, who had been at the Office since 1951, provided some history of the Copyright Office, and discussed some of the individuals who had held the position of Register of Copyrights. Moore retired the year before he gave this talk, and William Patry has a nice piece about him on his now-defunct blog. Much of the material Moore includes in his talk has, to my knowledge, not been published.
I will caution, for those seeking details on recent events, the Moore is quite circumspect about events from 1970 on, preferring to speak about earlier eras. Looming in the background of the talk was George Cary’s appointment as Register in 1971, which led Barbara Ringer to sue and that appointment to be vacated, at which point George Cary retired and Barbara Ringer was named Register. George Cary is specifically mentioned as being in the audience for this talk, which would make discussion of the controversy impolitic (it probably would have been even without him in the room).
“Some sheep are being treated like goats and the resulting mélange can satisfy no one except those who happen to profit from the confusion.”
Benjamin Kaplan, Harvard Law Professor, on sound recording copyright, from Publication in Copyright Law: The Question of Phonograph Records, 103 U. Penn. L. Rev. 469 (1955).
To be clear, what follows is solely my opinion, and should not be attributed to any institution, public or private. Much to my chagrin I received no support for writing this post, directly or indirectly.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the CLASSICS Act, now incorporated into the Music Modernization Act which passed the House and is now pending before the Senate. There’s been a number of posts arguing whether it’s an extension of copyright to 144 years, or a clarification of the status quo. I’ve personally spent a while on the issue of pre-1972 sound recordings and copyright, and my article Common-Law Copyright should be coming out soon, so I figured it might be helpful to explain a bit more why I tend to think this bill is largely a clarification and federalization of the status quo, by way of providing the background for pre-72 sound recordings. This is fairly condensed, and I’d urge folks who want the whole story to read my article. Those interested in the subject should also look at the Copyright Office’s Report from 2011 on pre-1972 sound recordings, as well as its related documents.
Continue reading “Of Sheep and Goats: A Condensed History of Common-Law Copyright for Sound Recordings”