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Playing Classic Recordings in Public: the Ways and Means of Intellectual Property in Music

vinyl recordings from SoundStage Direct

Anyone who takes a look at a record has probably seen a warning that states that the recorded material isn’t intended for public performance. That means that permission has to be gained from the record company to play most vinyl in public. Getting this permission can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible.

Most record companies that are still in existence can be contacted by phone or through the Internet. Giving them a call usually won’t help with granting performance licensing however. Writing a missive may be the best bet if the situation isn’t urgent. Fortunately, most professional DJ organizations and radio stations have departments that help people get permission to play some of their classic vinyl.

Public Domain Recordings

Public domain materials are not under copyright, and therefore can be used pretty freely. Records that were never copyrighted, like those made by some very underground groups as well as homemade albums, are generally in the public domain. Copyright expiration is putting large numbers of records into the public domain. When copyrights get very old, they wear off.

That means that exceptionally old albums may carry with them no demand for royalties, so these can be played publicly without any real concern. When in doubt it’s always good practice to check against a database to ensure that a recording truly is in the public domain. It’s always best to err on the side of caution when one wants to avoid potential legal problems.

Disc Jockey Licenses

While it might sound completely absurd, some jurisdictions actually require licenses for disc jockeys. These usually once again involve ensuring that all appropriate copyright laws are followed. In some cases, authorities have actually enforced these laws. However, it should also be noted what public performance is not.

When people sit around and listen to records, this isn’t a public performance. People who put a record on the stereo when they hold a party at their house aren’t in any danger. On the other hand, many jurisdictions consider playing copyrighted records over the loudspeakers at stores to be problematic. Interestingly enough some old background music services are still in business. These are worth exploring for those who enjoy that kind of thing.

Some adventurous sorts have actually created a service that streams music straight off vinyl records from a background music system used in the late 1950s. This is another option worth checking into for publicly playing some old records for those who are in jurisdictions that would be legally acceptable. Of course, there are other reasons people have been weary of these services. After all, no one ever said background music records were interesting. Nevertheless, fans might be pleasantly surprised to know that a pretty heavy version of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was once publicly played through these records.

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Eric Blair writes about 60′s rock and vintage albums like Bob Dylan vinyl from

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