Reconciling Copyright “Restoration” for Pre-1972 Foreign Sound Recordings with the Classics Protection and Access Act

By: Trent Tyler Ochoa

from Volume 12 (2022-2023)

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Abstract

When Congress first added sound recordings to the Copyright Act, it acted prospectively only: sound recordings fixed on or after February 15, 1972, received federal statutory copyright protection, while sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, were left to the vagaries of state law. This historic inequity was corrected in 2018 with enactment of the Classics Protection and Access Act (CPA), which provides sui generis protection to pre-1972 sound recordings that is similar, but not identical, to federal copyright protection. But there is a subset of pre-1972 sound recordings that already had federal copyright protection before the CPA was enacted: namely, sound recordings of foreign origin that were granted copyright under the umbrella of copyright “restoration” in the Uruguay Round Amendments Act of 1994. This raises an obvious question that Congress did not expressly address: is the new sui generis protection provided by the CPA a substitute for the existing copyright protection that such foreign sound recordings already enjoyed, or is it supplemental to the existing copyright protection that such foreign sound recordings already enjoyed, or does it simply not apply to such foreign sound recordings at all? This article examines the three alternatives and concludes that Congressional clarification is needed. Absent such clarification, it is possible that foreign sound recordings are simply not covered by the CPA at all, rendering its protections for digital music providers ineffective and depriving foreign sound recordings of the term extension provided by the CPA.