Copyright issues for 1970s poet recording

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  • The College I work for has an audio recording of a notable poet speaking at the College in 1974. As far as we can tell, the College did not seek permission to make the recording. The recording has never been transcribed, and the College has never had the tape cataloged. The college has reformatted the recording and allowed individuals to listen to the tape, but as far as we know, it has not been quoted from or used in any formal publishing.

    Recently, I have had some more formal inquiries into using the tape. I have only been here for a year and have not had anyone request to listen to the recording until now. I am thinking that we didn't have the right to make the recording, nevermind making copies or allowing scholars to listen. So, I am recommending that we deny access to the item until we approach the poet's estate (the poet is deceased).

    I appreciate any comments or suggestions. Thanks much for your time.
  • Contacting the estate sounds like a good idea, though it may result in the college having to forfeit both the original and re-formated copies. The author of the work (the poet) has copyright on his or her public performance of his/her work, so if there is no explicit documentation that your institution had permission to tape it, it would be risky to allow its continued use. And transferring the tape to another medium is only permissible in certain narrow cases -- your case probagly does not meet the criteria, particualrly if the item is not part of the library collection.

    Have you checked all possible sources of information on this recording -- not just the library's own records, but things like college and local newspapers? Even if you don't find anything about permission to tape the poet, including any information you can find about the venue may help the estate make a decision. You may not be able to hope for much more than the estate re-recording and releasing the tape commercially.
  • JanetCroft: Thank you for the helpful response. I hope you don't mind if I follow-up with another question.

    We did find out that the poet did agree to be recorded. The recording was made by a local unknown radio station, not the College. According to College records, the College sent a copy of the recording to the poet's family that was managing the poet's estate. (The poet died shortly after the recording.)

    Obviously, I need to follow-up with the estate. In the meantime, do you think it would be okay to allow scholars to listen to the tape, but have them sign a copyright responsibility form stating they must contact the estate to use for publishing purposes or do you think that would be a little risky? I mean clearly we didn't ask for rights to copy the recording, but the estate was aware that we had done so. Thanks much.
  • Knowing the recording was permitted helps. But the radio station may now be considered to have some rights in the matter. Your proposed solution sounds good, but you might want to also see if you can figure out what station it was and see if they had the poet sign any sort of contract with them. Aain, the local newspapers might have some clues -- "Famous Poet Visits Campus, to read On Station XXXX" or something like that.
  • Does the public performance right apply to something that wasn't initially fixed?
  • "Not fixed" is a pretty limited category. Maybe if he was making up poetry extempore, or responding on the spot to interview questions, there would be no initial ink-on-paper "fixed" tangible item. If he was reading pre-written poetry, that's a fixed tangible item where he'd have performance rights. But once something extempore is on tape as a recording, I would think that would be considered fixed. But that's why I wondered if the radio station had some sort of contract, because there you may have another party involved -- maybe an interviewer or something.
  • I was basically referring to that latter possibility- the extempore speech is not based on a derivative work. If it was the radio station that did the fixation, I believe the radio station might also have a copyright interest in that particular work (or even a sole, weak interest), similar to how some decisions have been made related to who owns the copyright of interviews. It depends on a lot of the circumstance.
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