do not own the copy rights to any of the shows available on this
site. We believe that the copyrights have expired, or that the
shows are in the public domain because they were never copyrighted.
We do not sell the recordings or charge for access to our site.
We are trying to bring the exciting world of Old Time Radio to
a whole new generation of listeners using the new technology of
the Internet. We are not trying to deprive the original creators
of any money due to them, and we will remove any recording from
our site that is shown to violate a copyright.
is some basic info on the copyrights for Old Time Radio Shows.
I am not a lawyer, and the information contained in this page
is not meant to be legal advice. It is just intented to give you
an overview of the various copyright issues involved:
Length of copyrights:
otr copyright info:
(search for Old Radio)
following are some arguements showing Old Time Radio Shows are
not covered by any copyrights:
the site at:
"we have checked with the Library of Congress regarding the
status of old time radio recordings made prior to 1978, and have
been informed by their staff that all such recordings are generally
in the public domain, as sound recordings were not allowed under
the previous copyright law and that such recordings have not been
granted copyright status under the new laws (since to change their
status and move them out of the Public Domain would be a violation
of Ex-Post-Facto). Once a piece is placed into the public domain
for any reason, it remains there legally unless someone brings
a case to the Supreme Court to decide otherwise."
the site at:
Library of Congress statements that the original recordings presented
here are within the Public Domain, since they were NOT qualified
for copyright protection when presented, nor was any attempt to
place them under such copyright protection was made when the window
of opportunity for such existed in 1978-1979 when the copyright
law regarding such recordings changed. (Such had to be submitted
to the Congressional Record for reinstatement at that time, and
NO US Broadcasts from the 1929 thru 1950 period was filed for
at that time in the Congressional Record - only a few foreign
language audio recordings were so filed for in that period, none
of which are here in our Library Collection.
people feel that the old time radio trademarks are abandonded
since they were never enforced and are virtually worthless:
lawsuit for copyright infringement needs to be brought about by
the real parties in interest (the actual copyright holder or assignee),
not somebody else on their behelf. Without a federally registered
copyright (which automatically would carry a presumption of validity),
the burden of proof is on the person bringing the lawsuit to prove
that they own a valid copyright for the work.
Issues: Although failure to register a copyright does not affect
its validity, a copyright must be registered before an infringement
action can be filed under current federal copyright law. Registration
must be made within three months after publication or before the
occurrence of an infringement in order for statutory damages and
attorney's fees to be available to the plaintiff. Otherwise only
actual damages may be awarded (17 USC §§ 411, 412).
shows created before January 1, 1978 are protected by the Copyright
Act of 1909 rather than the Copyright Act of 1976 ( http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html#hlc
) because according to case law any copyright determinations must
be made according the copyright law as it existed before that
the old time radio shows were in the pbulic domain from from the
Copyright Act of 1909, the update of 1976 could not suddenly place
them under copyright because they were already in the public domain,
and the status of a public domain work is not allowed to ever
Steve Dhuey from University of Toledo College of Law
wrote in to add the following thoughts on the topic:
Your page on copyrights seems to address only one type of copyright,
federal statutory copyright. There is indeed good reason to believe that
the old time radio recordings themselves are not under *federal* statutory
However, there are at least two other major types of copyright: state
statutory copyright, and common law copyright. Neither of those types
of copyright are addressed on that page:
* Under common law copyright, an unpublished work remained under
copyright to its owner/creator in perpetuity.
* State statutory copyright, like federal statutory copyright, usually
sets a limited term on a copyright.
U.S. Copyright Office Circular #56, "Copyright Registration for Sound
"Sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, were generally
protected by common law or in some cases by statutes enacted in
certain states but were not protected by federal copyright law. In 1971
Congress amended the copyright code to provide copyright protection
for sound recordings fixed and first published with the statutory
copyright notice on or after February 15, 1972. The 1976 Copyright Act, effective
January 1, 1978, provides federal copyright protection for unpublished
and published sound recordings fixed on or after February 15, 1972.
Any rights or remedies under state law for sound recordings fixed before
February 15, 1972, are not annulled or limited by the 1976 Copyright Act
until February 15, 2047."
Thus, sound recordings made before Feb. 15, 1972, are not protected
by federal copyright, but they may still be protected by state copyright,
or by common law copyright.
That addresses the issue of the sound recordings themslves. But there
is another issue: the copyright of the scripts used on old time radio
shows. These scripts were almost all written as works for hire, with the
copyrights belonging to the network or the sponsor. The copyrights of
these scripts are separate from the copyright of the sound recordings;
one can be in the public domain while the other is still under copyright.
Almost all radio scripts would be legally considered unpublished works
(broadcast or performance does not constitute publication), because
very few old time radio broadcasts have been published by the copyright
owners. If the scripts were unpublished, and not registered for copyright
as unpublished works, they were under common law copyright, i.e., in
perpetuity. The Copyright Act of 1976, effective 1978, changed that. It
abolished common law copyright in the U.S. (except for sound recordings)
and said that all unpublished, unregistered works existing as of Jan. 1,
1978, had a federal statutory copyright, lasting 120 years from the date
Thus, even though the *recordings* of the old time radio broadcasts are
not under federal statutory copyright, the *scripts* underlying
most of those broadcasts are under federal statutory copyright for 120 years
There is a third layer of copyright involved, if the script is based on
another literary work, for example, a short story, play, or motion picture
screenplay. Even if the sound recording had no copyright, and the radio script had no
copyright, the copyright of the underlying literary property may be in
effect and enforceable.
In summary, the copyright situation is more complex than the simple
question of whether the old time radio recordings are under federal
statutory copyright. There are also issues of common law copyright and
state statutory copyright, and the underlying literary copyrights of the