The Copyright #Tarpit of Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

When I saw that today’s #TarGramChallenge theme was #tarpit, I knew what I wanted to write about–pre-1972 sound recordings, one of the tar pits par excellence of copyright law.  Copyrights in sound recordings from that time period are not covered by Federal law, and instead they are covered by a patchwork of state laws.  Many of these laws are aimed at preventing bootlegging and misappropriation, and they were never intended to deal with the full range of issues that we find in music copyright today,

What does this mean for us here at the UNC Scholarly Communications Office?  The Libraries deal with a wide range of sound recordings from all periods, not only from the Music Library but also from the Southern Folklife Collection and other special collections.  Recently, we made a study of North Carolina law for sound recordings, so that we can get more clarity on how and when we can digitize these recordings legally.

Since then, UNC received a large grant from the Mellon Foundation to digitize and preserve historic audio and moving image collections.  The work we have done in researching North Carolina copyright law for pre-1972 sound recordings will be invaluable as we plan this proess.