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Journal of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association

Volume 12, Number 1 (2012)

Unfair? The Unique Status of Sound Recordings under U.S. Copyright Law and its Impact on the Progress of Sample-Based Music

Reynaldo Sanchez
University of Miami


Since the early twentieth century, the U.S. has struggled to define sound recordings’ role in the intellectual property (IP) community. At deliberations, publishers and broadcasters spoke to the impracticality and questionable morality of copyrighting a sound recording. Initial opinions found that sound recordings were simply mechanical reproductions, or fixations, of copyrighted works, and thus not even subject to copyright protection at all. However, there was open agreement that sound recordings required some type of protection. The U.S.’ opportunity to finally enter international IP treaties generated massive political pressure on this issue. As a result, sound recordings quickly gained federal protection under the Copyright Act of 1976. However, legislative opinions of the time still viewed sound recordings as a limited copyright. Yet, by the 1990s, court rulings flung sound recordings’ copyright protection to the opposite extreme of its early standing. The controversial Bridgeport decision exemplifies this extreme. Not only did the decision belittle the practical limitations of licensing samples, it in turn hindered future artistic innovation. Due to courts’ limited political insight, future progress to correct this balance will depend on industry-legislative cooperative action, the focus of which must be on the intrinsic derivative nature of sound recordings.

Keywords: music law, copyright, derivative, exclusive rights, music licensing, music sampling, intellectual property

Sanchez, Reynaldo. “Unfair? The Unique Status of Sound Recordings under U.S. Copyright Law and its Impact on the Progress of Sample-Based Music.” Journal of the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Association 12, no. 1 (2012): 13-41.  https://doi.org/10.25101/12.1

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