Is the 1956 recording of Hound Dog by Elvis Presley out of copyright in the UK?
July 29, 2007 3:05 AM   Subscribe

Is the 1956 recording of Hound Dog by Elvis Presley out of copyright in the UK?

This article says the UK copyright term is 50 years for musical recordings, and that some Elvis songs are due to go out of copyright "this decade". On the other hand, this wikipedia article paints a slightly more complex picture. Moreover, I can find no reference to a public domain Elvis collection, which I would've expected to find if the songs really were out of copyright now. What's the situation?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Law & Government (9 answers total)

It's out of copyright; there are plenty of public domain collections of Elvis and other artists available in the UK on respectacle labels; try Rev-Ola, for some collections of public domain early rock and a couple by the man himself.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:21 AM on July 29, 2007

Even if the recording is out of copyright, the copyright on the music itself would last until 50 years after the death of the author.
posted by grouse at 3:29 AM on July 29, 2007

To piggyback onto the Q...

How does copyright (in the UK) work for classical music recordings?

For example, let's take..

Mozart: Horn Concertos
Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Performer: Dennis Brain, Colin Horsley, Leonard Brain, Stephen Waters
Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra
Audio CD (5 Oct 1998)

The performance is from 1953. Who counts as the "author"? Mozart? and/or Karajan? + Brain? + any and all members of the orchestra?

Does the 1998 issue on CD extend the copyright? In short, when does the original recording of this performance fall into the public domain in the UK?
posted by Gyan at 5:44 AM on July 29, 2007

Gyan: The author of the "musical work" and therefore copyright would definitely be Mozart. Obviously that copyright has lapsed. But the performers have performance rights and can control the reproduction of their performance ("reproduction rights"). Near as I can figure out, the performance rights last for 50 years from the December 31 after of the performance, or 50 years from the December 31 after the recording's first authorized release. This all changed in 1996, but I think before then the durations were shorter.

It might be possible to argue that the work of the sound engineer for the 1998 constitutes a new performance. You'd be a lot safer to copy the original release (if made in or before 1956) rather than the re-release.
posted by grouse at 5:39 PM on July 29, 2007

Best answer: Elvis and his record label are no longer entitled to demand royalties. The author of the song, however, probably still is.

In UK rights terms you'd still need a license from PRS, but not from PPL.

I'm informed that labels have been slapping 'REMASTERED!' on CDs for some time specifically to fudge the expiry -- however, they have yet to win a single claim on that score in court. I suppose the vast number of third-label copies of the performance rather bears that out.
posted by genghis at 4:54 AM on July 30, 2007

Response by poster: So, genghis, what does it mean for the copyright term on a sound recording to expire if the song author can still claim royalties on it? I know that in the specific case of Hound Dog, the songwriter was not the person who made the recording in question. Is that what makes the copyright term effectively life+70?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:45 AM on July 31, 2007

hoverboards: The performance embodied in the recording is not under copyright as the term is used in UK law. Only the underlying music is. The reproduction rights for the performance expire as I set out above. This means that you can copy the performance as you like without the consent of the performer, but you still need the consent of the composer.

Note that the article you link never says that copyright expires after 50 years. You have been interpolating that, but in the UK there never was a copyright on the musical performance.
posted by grouse at 9:39 AM on July 31, 2007

Response by poster: OK, thanks. It was this paragraph that confused me:

For example, the Beatles' first LP, Please Please Me, was released in 1963. Under the present 50-year rule, the album would cease to be covered in 2013, meaning that it could be re-released freely by any organisation.

Is that not strictly true?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 9:47 AM on July 31, 2007

Best answer: You would still need the permission of the music composers. But if they have already agreed to mechanically license their music, then all you would have to do is pay royalties, as it says in the article: "The artist loses the right to earn any further income, unless they wrote the song."
posted by grouse at 10:28 AM on July 31, 2007

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