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From the mailbag: Pre-1972 songs okay?

Oct 10, 2017

Here’s a recent Snap Synapse mailbox question from an Instructional Designer regarding the use of recorded music in a webinar:

"A company wants to use pre-1972 music in a webcast meeting. Have you ever tackled the pre-/ post-1972 copyright issue as it applies to music?"

It’s a great question! The issue here is that prior to February 15th, 1972, there was no Federal Copyright protection for recorded music. Crazy, huh?

But make no mistake, this does NOT mean it’s fair game to use any music prior to that date.

As we understand it, there are still state and international protections that can extend to pre-1972 recordings in many cases. Here’s an article on the subject you might find helpful: https://futureofmusic.org/blog/2014/02/11/whats-deal-pre-72-copyrights

And just last year a US District Court Judge ruled that any recordings made before 1972 but remastered since then would still be protected by Federal Copyright (the remasters, not the originals). The legalities of such things are tricky, and still actively being argued about. And while webinars themselves aren’t often litigated, being that they are usually recorded and archived, present risk and future risk can be very different beasts indeed.

Ultimately, if you have a question about assessing the legal risk of any asset, or a question about interpreting a law, Snap Synapse cannot be your go to. Legal advice comes from real live lawyers! That’s not us. We help lawyers sometimes, but that doesn’t mean we are lawyers. 

If you find the idea of talking to lawyers scary (you shouldn’t, we know some great ones!), there are usually ways to avoid such problems that don’t need to involve any lawyers at all. For instance, there are plenty of other songs for which this 1972 issue does not apply. Search for “royalty free music” and you’ll find a google full. If you’re unsure of the legality of what you’ve got, you could just pick one of those.

Or, as we do at Snap Synapse, you can just get creative and make some music yourself. Because we have in-house talent, we’ve found it’s usually much easier to make original music for the clients we serve than it is to try and secure rights to an existing piece of music. Plus then you can make it to fit, rather than editing.

It’s ALWAYS good to talk to lawyers when you have legal questions. It’s best to forge that relationship now, before you need it. If you need a recommendation for a good copyright attorney, or have another different L&D or Audio/Video question you’d like answered, just reach out and ask!

Lastly here’s something our lawyer told us to say 🙂
“The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.”

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