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Latest News: New Report Examines Changes to Copyright Law for Sound Recordings

Significant updates have been made to American copyright law governing music licensing and sound recordings, and these changes carry implications for libraries and archives across the country, as detailed in a new report published today by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress.

Passed by Congress in 2018, the Orrin G. Hatch — Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act constitutes some of the most significant legislative reforms to American copyright law in 20 years. Among many provisions, the legislation fundamentally reshapes music licensing and the legal status of sound recordings made before 1972, bringing these recordings under federal copyright law for the first time.

The law comprises three sections: the Musical Works Modernization Act; the Classics Protection and Access Act; and the Allocation for Music Producers Act. Links to the legislation and related materials can be found here: To help libraries and archives navigate this complex legislation, the Library today published an extensive report: “The Orrin Hatch — Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act: A Guide for Sound Recordings Collectors.” This report is the latest in a series of nearly a dozen studies published by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress. Authored by copyright scholar and former music librarian Eric Harbeson, the report is free of charge and can be found online at:

This report clearly explains each section of the law it as it applies to curators of recordings and provides a thorough summary of the legislation and its implementation. It will serve to guide holders of recordings in their efforts to preserve sound recordings and make them accessible through digital streaming.

The publication discusses key features of this landmark legislation and includes useful tools to apply when using the law:

Key Features of the Act

  • Under the law, recordings made before 1972 are brought under federal protection for the first time. Most significantly, the law creates rolling terms of protection that enable many historical recordings to begin to enter the public domain, beginning in 2022. The report provides criteria to help determine if a recording is in the public domain.
  • The law establishes new rights and responsibilities for libraries, archives, museums and individuals who hold collections. Among them, it created a public domain for sound recordings; it directed new rights and procedures for institutions to obtain licenses to stream holdings; and it revised processes to license music performed on recordings (“underlying works”).
  • Publication or streaming of recordings most often requires two different licenses — one for use of the recording itself and one to license rights to the musical or other works performed. The Music Modernization Act establishes new requirements and processes for each category in order to stream audio through an “interactive” service — one where content is selected by the user as opposed to pre-set content.
  • An objective of the law is to provide uniform procedures to license recordings for streaming. The requirements to obtain licenses to stream audio recordings vary greatly based on the ages and types of recordings. The new guide includes an extensive analysis of these licensing requirements and procedures as they relate to different categories of recordings.

Useful Tools and Resources for Libraries and Archives in the Publication

  • Guidance to help owners of sound recordings who are or may be offering digital streaming services of their collections.
  • Decision trees on educational performances and non-commercial uses to help guide efforts to legally utilize the recordings for educational purposes and make them accessible through streaming under the new legislation.
  • A case study on distribution of institutional sound recordings.
  • An extensive glossary of terms and acronyms, bibliography and web resources on the law.
  • Explanation of how the law impacts sections of copyright law applicable to libraries and archives: Sections 107, 108, 301 and 1401.
  • A legislative history of the Music Modernization Act.

Created by the U.S. Congress in 2000, the National Recoding Preservation Board serves as an advisory body to the Librarian of Congress. The Board advises the Librarian on: 1) national recorded sound preservation policy and 2) annual selections to the National Recording Registry. The National Audio-Visual Conservation Center — Packard Campus administers the Recording Board and is a state-of-the-art facility where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings ( It is home to more than 9 million collection items.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at; and register creative works of authorship at