Library of Congress Says U.S. Copyright Law Threatens Sound Archiving
In a recently published study, the Library of Congress concluded that current copyright law poses a formidable threat to music archivers, who must now work around strict regulations that the Library deems "restrictive and anachronistic" in today's digital age. The ten-year study, first commissioned under the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, acknowledges that technical format issues also pose a barrier to archivists, but emphasizes that copyright law stands as the most serious threat.
"Were copyright law followed to the letter, little audio preservation would be undertaken. Were the law strictly enforced, it would brand virtually all audio preservation as illegal," the study reads. "Copyright laws related to preservation are neither strictly followed nor strictly enforced. Consequently, some audio preservation is conducted."
Although libraries are theoretically allowed to circumvent some facets of current copyright law, they often find it "virtually impossible to reconcile their responsibility for preserving and making accessible culturally important sound recordings with their obligation to adhere to [the law]." Archival institutes and libraries, moreover, are having a difficult time finding funding for their preservation projects, simply because copyright law limits the extent to which they can grant access to archived audio. The recording industry, meanwhile, does preserve some music on its own, but, of course, it typically only preserves recordings which would offer some economic benefit to them in the long run. The work of more obscure artists, therefore, may not be preserved if record labels don't consider the investment to be worth their time.
The ultimate takeaway from the Library's study, then, is essentially one that we've all known for a while: that contemporary copyright law is woefully outdated. It's unlikely that this study will change this legal ambiguity any time soon, but, with no less an authority than the Library of Congress having spoken so vociferously against current law, it should garner some more attention, at the very least.