Major Change In U.S. Copyright Protections Took Effect This Year

February 12, 2022

By Terri Jo Neff |

Businesses looking just for the right song or music compilation for an advertising campaign have a whole lot of new options, thanks to a major change in U.S. Copyright protections which took effect this year.

All audio or sound recordings made on or before Dec. 31, 1922 are now in the public domain for use without copyright restrictions, thanks to the  Orrin G. Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act.

More commonly known as the Music Modernization Act of 2018, it provides for the free use of nearly 400,000 audio / sound recordings more than 100 years old that are not subject to copyright or royalties. Such availability is a much more affordable option for companies big and small hoping to find music or songs to use in ads or to use free of royalties to a music services company.

Many early Jazz Age and Blues classics are now in the public domain, including recordings by Mamie Smith, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, and Paul Whiteman. Other recent additions to the public domain include recordings by Al Jolson, Fanny Brice,  and opera great Enrico Caruso.

But the Act is not limited to only music. In fact, all sound recordings -including those featuring only the spoken word- prior to Jan. 1, 1923 became public.  That means speeches by President Warren G. Harding during the first half of his presidency are in the public domain, as is the first radio broadcast of a World Series – the 1921 matchup of the New York Yankees and the New York Giants.

Even the first known audio commercial for a soda pop is now in the public domain, as are several vaudeville sound recordings which represent comedic offerings from more than a century ago.

Under theMusic Modernization Act, sound recordings from 1923 through 1956 will become public domain on a phased-in basis over the next few decades.

It is possible, however, that pre-1923 song recordings have been remixed in more recent years, thus triggering new copyright privileges to the newer version of an old song. As a result, the U.S. Copyright Office provides information about the reuse options of public domain sound /audio recordings on their website via:

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