There is an interesting case, Capitol v. Naxos, wending its way through the courts in New York that may have repercussions for anyone interested in the preservation of sound recordings and/or the use of unpublished material. As a certification issued this month notes, "The advent of modern technology to produce digitally enhanced reproductions of historic sound recordings makes it likely that a decision by the Court of Appeals will be important for this emerging field."
In the case, Capitol Records is arguing that Naxos Records violated Capitol's copyright by reissuing in the US sound recordings that had entered the public domain in England. Sound recordings in the UK were protected by a 50 year copyright term, whereas in the US sound recordings produced before 1972 are protected by common law copyright until 2067.
In the latest ruling, the Federal Court of Appeals has asked the New York state court to rule on a number of issues. Most importantly, the state court is supposed to rule whether under New York law, a foreign work that enters the public domain in its home country also enters the public domain in the U.S.
An affirmative decision in this case could have broad implications for libraries and archives. In addition to the fifty year term for sound recordings found in the UK, there are other unpublished materials that have a shorter copyright duration than is found in the US. Photographs in Canada, for example, have been protected for fifty years; a favorable ruling in this case would suggest that any Canadian photograph taken before 1928 would now be in the public domain in the US.
This is a case to watch.