I've never really understood just how copyright law where record companies work.I,too,hate the thought that RHJ will be going off the net.I'll ask my friend Al Hendrickson,who was con-
stantly doing record dates in the '30s through 1980 when he and his late wife moved to North Bend,Oregon which is my home town.As I have stated before,the only thing I knew about laws and the record companies was where band singers were not a part of the union but they were automatically under contract to the label their boss-bandleader had signed with.I know of a couples:Ella Fitzgerald was Chick Webb's singer while Webb was under contract to Decca.When Ella cut three sides for Victor with Benny Goodman's band,Decca somehow got wind of the record date and threatened to sue Victor if the records weren't recalled.Not all of them were recalled;I have the entire session in my collection.Goodman should have known better:in order for Teddy Wilson,tied to Brunswick,could do sides with Victor,Benny had to cut some sides,at scale,for Brunswick which he did and the idea that he was paid no different than the other musicians on the date.He was not amused.Such is my knowledge of
recording contract laws.I know of a couple more examples but that would take up too much space in an email or a blog.All in all,I hate to see the site close down.All of this reminds me of the "war" that ASCAP had with the radio stations.Ceasar Petrillo instigated it and after it was over,BMI was organised.Take it for what it's worth.
While I have never posted to this group before, I have been a member for a while and read
the digest almost every day.
There has been a lot of confusion regarding copyright law in the US involving music, and
there are no single correct answers.
Leaving aside the question of copyrights on compositions, yes, it is true that there was no
national copyright on recorded musical performances ("phonorecordings") in the US until
However, there were individual state copyright laws for these things, especially in New
York and California, where so many record companies existed. In 1977, all state
copyrights converted to federal, with an interminable extension, which will probably be
extended again and again, as long as companies like Disney have money to openly throw
Interestingly enough, Federal law states that individual artists (or their heirs) who sold
their rights to companies (NOT "work for hire") have the right to claim the work as their
own again within two years of the 56th year since the work's original creation, without
going to court!
Now anything older is trickier, since so much recorded music was never copyrighted even
in states, and the performing artists never knew that their work MIGHT be copyrightable
into the next century and left to their heirs.
So as an example, let's say a company that currently claims to own the rights to a catalog
of recorded music from the late 1920s, wants to claim royalties from a web site or internet
radio station playing these tunes.
If it came down to it, the law would protect the rights of each and every artist performing
on the records, unless documentation could be found showing that, say, the band
members all signed agreements handing over the rights of recorded musical performances
(that they didn't know would be granted to them over fifty years later) to their label, or
band leader, or whatever.
So if it came to court, one could mess up the claims by bringing in descendants
(grandchildren? great-grandchildren?) of the performers, claiming that they were entitled
to their share, and did not give the record label the right to sue on their behalf!
What a kettle of worms this could open up!
There are many other issues involved. So-called "legal" web sites that claim that there is
no public domain recorded music are full of baloney. At the very least, ALL Edison
recordings were handed to the public domain in Thomas Edison's will (assuming he had
the right to do so under current confusing law). The national Park Service actually hosts a
wonderful site with freely downloadable Edison label recordings. The claims of near
perpetual copyright on other pre-1977 music is dubious at best, with plenty of loopholes
and contradictions in the laws.
The United States recognizes "fair use" for copyrighted material, especially for academic
use. A academically-oriented web site such as Redhotjazz.com is doing a public service,
and may very well fall under the legal definition of a research library, which has certain
latitudes built in to the law.
The fair thing for redhotjazz.com to do would be to make it known that any company that
currently has the rights to and is selling their recordings to the public, wants a song or
song to be removed on those grounds, that the site will cooperate. Sleaze artists who
have no rights and are trying to claim them by issuing quickie home-burned CDs, can
safely be ignored...
This only scratches the surface of the issues involved, but generally speaking,
redhotjazz.com ought to be pretty safe continuing with its existence. I am not a lawyer,
thogh, but there are plenty who will argue both sides of that.
For those who are interested, my daily podcast, "Mister Ron's Basement"
features readings of public domain humorous stories,
plus short snippets of old-time recordings (very short -- fair use!) as intros. Some of the
recordings have come from redhotjazz.com, some from other sites such as jazz-on-
line.com, and dozens of other sites, and others digitized from my own collection of 78s.
Pinpoint customers who are looking for what you sell.
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