Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wants to Use 50-Year Old European Recordings

Dear Rich: I'm thinking of starting a a business that re-packages recordings on memory sticks. I'm in San Francisco and I have a partner in London. In England, recordings that are over 50 years old are in the public domain so we're timing things so that we can release collections of music from the so-called British invasion - Stones, Beatles, Kinks, etc. We figure if we sell these tracks out of Europe -- our website server is in Brussels -- then people in America can buy the tracks as an import. What do we need so that we don't get in trouble? We think you may need a new business plan. British law used to provide for expiration of copyright of recordings after 50 years. In fact, the Beatles 1962 single of Love Me Do b/w P.S. I Love You was one of the last recordings to fall into the public domain. Then, thanks to some kicking and screaming by British labels fearful of enterprises such as yours, the law was changed from 50 years to 70 years. As a result, in Europe, a recording issued in 1963 won’t fall into the public domain until 2034. There is an exception to the rule -- if labels don’t make 50-year+ recordings available for “consumption and purchase,” the artist will be able to claim copyright.
Two more caveats. Even if a recording falls into the public domain, the underlying song copyright--protected for the life of the songwriter plus 70 years -- is not likely public domain. So you will have to obtain mechanical licenses from the music publishers. In addition, music labels are a territorial lot. If they find a company engaging in substantial exports of copyrighted music (that is, recordings that are still protected by copyright in the U.S.) across borders, they will pursue the company with litigation. As a result, you may need to revise your plans -- for example, here's how a Canadian music website handles the public domain issue.