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Some of the most vibrant and exciting evidence of the growth of America’s diverse culture over the past 120 years is found in historical sound recordings. Yet unusual provisions of U.S. copyright law place these recordings at risk of being lost forever. U.S. laws not only make it difficult for students, scholars and the general public to hear and study our recorded legacy, they even place obstacles in the way of preserving these recordings. Promoting Changes in U.S. Copyright Law to Preserve Our Audio Heritage

Did you know that:
Copyright laws in the United States treat most sound recordings differently from all other intellectual property?
There are currently no public domain sound recordings under U.S. law?
Recordings made between the 1890s and 1972 will not enter the public domain until 2067?
U.S. laws place considerable restrictions on preservation and fair use?
The United States is the only country in the world with such extensive restrictions on sound recordings?

Recordings as diverse as those of John Philip Sousa’s band, the very first African-American recording artists, immigrant groups, early jazz bands, symphony orchestras and even speeches by U.S. presidents are difficult to hear due to our dysfunctional copyright system. (For some examples, view the recording timeline.) HRCAP supports strong and effective copyright to protect legitimate interests of creators, but it also believes that our laws need to be changed and that copyright should not be used to lock up our history.

The irony is that no one benefits under the current system, not the public, not recording artists, not even copyright owners. The goals of HRCAP are to advocate for changes to the law that respect creators but at the same time encourage the preservation of our rich and varied audio heritage, and enable greater public access to that heritage. If you share these goals, explore this site to learn more, sign our petition, or make a contribution to one of the organizations that make up HRCAP.

Exciting developments: subsequent to the formation of HRCAP and the increased involvement of its members in Washington there have been several positive developments. In December 2011, after considerable study, the U.S. Copyright Office issued a report to Congress basically endorsing HRCAP's position and recommending that pre-1972 recordings be brought under federal law, which would for the first time establish a public domain for the oldest U.S. recordings. In February 2013 the Library of Congress issued its long-awaited National Recording Preservation Plan, which made the same recommendation and also urged action on orphan works and preservation exceptions. Later the same year Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for copyright legislation, announced a series of hearings to work toward a comprehensive updating of copyright law. Register of Copyright Maria Pallante has called this "The Next Great Copyright Act." HRCAP will continue to actively follow and contribute to these discussions.

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May 5, 2010 -- Eighth major organization votes to back HRCAP copyright reform proposals.  » “Popular Culture Association is Eighth Major Organization to Endorse Recommended Changes in Copyright Law.” [pdf]

March 21, 2010 -- HRCAP submits comments to the new White House copyright chief.  » “Recommendations to the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Regarding Historical Sound Recordings.” [pdf]

Summer 2009 -- Article in American Music:   » “Only in America: The Unique Status of Sound Recordings under U.S. Copyright Law and How It Threatens Our Audio Heritage.” (reprinted by permission, see last page for permitted uses)[pdf]

May 19, 2009 -- ARSC secures legislation requiring study of status of pre-1972 recordings.  » “HRCAP applauds historic legislation mandating study on bringing pre-1972 recordings under federal law.” [pdf]

March 23, 2009 -- The Society for American Music joins HRCAP.  » “HRCAP welcomes the Society for American Music to the coalition.” [pdf]