50-Year Anniversary of Federal Copyright Protection for Sound Recordings

By Ethan Barr

Sound recordings — i.e., the recorded versions of musical works — were not protected by federal copyright law until Congress passed legislation on February 15, 1972, giving them limited protection. Until the passage of Title II of the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) in 2018, sound recordings created before February 15, 1972 were only protected to the extent of state laws, if any, that governed them. The CLASSICS Act extended copyright protection of these “legacy works” until February 15, 2067.

On January 1, 2022, pre-1923 sound recordings entered the public domain. These consisted of approximately 400,000 recordings, including numerous songs by the likes of Mamie Smith and Sophie Tucker. However, recordings first published between 1923 and 1946 receive an additional five years of protection, and recordings between 1947 and 1956 receive an additional 15 years.

As we celebrate this anniversary, it is important to highlight that the date of copyright registration has a significant impact on the lifespan and protectability of legacy works. Lutzker & Lutzker is available to all who need help navigating the more nuanced details of this new copyright licensing scheme and will continue to provide updates about the MMA as they occur.