Published on November 3rd, 2018 | by Alan Cross1
This court ruling could put a crimp into labels releasing album remasters and box sets
Record labels are always looking to squeeze the most out of the music in their catalogues. One way to do that is to go back to the master tapes of a classic album and remix it to modern standards so the enhanced audio quality will entice fans to buy the album again. This can be done with individual albums or with material included in box sets.
But there is another reason labels like remasters. The thinking has been that creating a new master (in this case, a re-master of the original) creates a new copyright, thereby preventing those songs and that album from falling into the public domain for another fifty-ish years. In the US, this has especially been true for material recorded before 1972. That explains all those Beatles, Elvis, and Dylan re-releases, doesn’t it?
However, there’s been a twist related to the recently passed Music Modernization Act in the US. Digital Music News takes it from here:
The year 1972 was an important demarcation line when federal copyright protection for recordings went into place. That cements the exemption for federal broadcasters, though state law gets tricky on older works. And CBS Radio recently found itself getting sued for not paying for pre-1972 songs played, specifically under U.S. state laws.
The legal action was lodged by ABS Entertainment, which owns a considerable oldies catalog. ABS claimed that CBS Radio had been over-extending its exemption and playing pre-1972 music without authorization. After all, the federal exemption only applies to post-1972 works.
Tricky problem, though CBS attorneys cooked up a creative counterargument. They argued that if the oldies recordings in question were simply remastered after 1972, then federal copyright law applies. And most of the pre-1972 songs played by CBS had indeed been remastered.
This has me wondering: If creating a new remaster doesn’t create a new copyright, will labels bother with reissues of pre-1972 material going forward? Anyone want to weigh in on this?