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Pre-1978 Copyright and Publishing

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  • Noob

Hi all,


My group made a recording in the early 70s that has recently been sampled on several contemporary recordings. My group was recorded by someone who handled the copyright and publishing logistics. The 45 shows my group as the writers of the A and B sides. The publishing company and record label shown on the 45 are now defunct and the individuals who produced the 45 on our behalf cannot be found. Both songs are shown as BMI registered. The 45 is the only known release by the label. It goes for high bids on eBay. To my knowledge, it has not been digitized to the original full length 45 except on YouTube. My questions are:


1. How can I determine if the BMI registration is still binding under the previous publisher?

2. Is the original copyright still binding? If so, how do I go about re-releasing and/or licensing the songs?

3. If the songs are no longer protected by the original copyright, am I allowed to copyright both songs then register them with BMI myself to allow the remaining (living) members of the group access to potential royalties?

4. How can I determine if the original publishing company and its productions have been bought or merged with another entity conducting business?

5. Am I allowed to transfer the audio from the 45 to a digital format myself then license its use? If so, how can I get the best quality audio without being perceived as conducting copyright infringement myself? 


Please forgive my naïveté. I am sure I am overlooking many questions and have omitted important information. Any step by step guidance would be greatly appreciated.


Many thanks!

Edited by soulman
Typo corrected
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It's pretty easy to Google  this stuff , so i would assume you have already done this ???




By Attorney Lloyd J. Jassin


To protect authors of older works from having to “live” with a bad deal they entered into when they had little negotiating skill or leverage, the Copyright Act provides that at the end of 56 years, the author (or if the author is dead, his wife and children or grandchildren), can recapture the last 39 years of copyright. For example, a publishing contract signed in 1948 can be terminated in 2004, provided timely notice of termination is given. As long as the work is not a “work made for hire,” the right of termination cannot be waived -- even if there are contractual provisions to the contrary. 


The Copyright Act also gives families of deceased authors another opportunity to extract value from copyrighted works. When the author of an older work dies during the initial 28-year term of copyright, that author’s family has the right to reclaim his or her renewal copyright -- a further term of 67 years of copyright protection. This added opportunity to get back ownership of copyrights exists even if the author assigned his or her renewal term (or devised it by will) to someone other than his or her family.


The Devil is in the Details

The manner in which notice of termination is given is highly technical and beyond the scope of this article. For example, notice provided prematurely, or too late, can frustrate your efforts to recapture rights. Besides the author’s widow or widower, children and grandchildren, the Copyright Act also permits termination rights to be exercised by an author’s executor, administrator or personal administrator, provided there is no spouse, children or grandchildren. Also, in situations where there are multiple authors, or after the death of an author, more than one individual may hold the right to terminate. In addition, termination notices must be recorded with the Copyright Office prior to the date of termination.


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