January 1, 2024 - Public Domain Day
Copyright law is very complex, and differs country to country. The U.S. is especially complicated, given that copyright had to be registered in precisely the right way until 1976 (I believe). And until the Federal Music Modernization Act, no musical performances at all were in the public domain.
Now, essentially any music greater than 100 years old falls into the public domain, and everything else 95 years. Still stupidly long, but at least it's (relatively) clear what is in the public domain, and what is not.
In Canada, at first glance music (at least) copyright is simpler (until recent changes in the laws), but in practice more complicated. The music itself is copyrighted for life of the composer plus fifty years, and performances for fifty years. That means a lot of music not in the public domain in the U.S., particularly from the late 1920s and the 1930s, even the 1940s, is in the public domain in Canada - vintage jazz in particular. In practice, it's often difficult to determine the composers, and lawsuits to regain rights can change things. I often have to go to the SOCAN database to determine if a piece of music is copyrighted or not, and even then that's not guaranteed.
I restrict my Internet stream to Canada and the U.S. only, geo blocking other countries, as it's simply just too difficult to determine copyright elsewhere. And I even have a SOCAN license, which theoretically lets me play anything from everywhere.
I'm sure glad that over the air unlicensed "stations" don't have to worry about this.
But as I understand OTR shows are in the public domain even though they are later than 1928.
Unlicensed stations in Canada don't. In the U.S., BMI did have a Part 15 music license, but I suspect most just ignore the issue.
Regarding OTR, the copyright status would be different between countries, and there is also a personal viewpoint element as well. If you go strictly by the law (and I'm not a lawyer, so this is my personal opinion), most OTR prior to the mid 1950s in the U.S. should be in the public domain. It falls into the Silent Public Domain category that is mentioned in the article I referenced.
Pretty much everything except music in the U.S. had a copyright term of 25 years, and it had to be registered, as well as properly indicated as such. You could re-register for another 25 year term if desired.
When the laws were changed in the 1970s (mainly due to pressure from Walt Disney because their characters were set to enter the public domain), anything currently in the public domain remained there. A lot of OTR already was in the public domain; no one had bothered to re-register the copyright, and the shows were deemed worthless. Anything currently copyrighted could re-register for the extended terms, which would include the few shows that were re-registered, and more recent shows. However, not one OTR show took advantage of this re-registration window.
The courts are a last resort for regaining or retaining ownership, and they have supported this to a large extent (although not fully). Early episodes of The Shadow, Fibber McGee and Lum & Abner have been confirmed to be in the public domain (basically, anything up to the mid 1940s/1950s). In the case of the Shadow, the character remains trademarked, but the shows can be aired freely. It would be nice if the courts truly understood the intent of the law, but I guess money talks.
In Canada, it's a bit more 'iffy'. In everything I've read from copyright lawyers, Canada would treat OTR similarly to music, and the life + 50 years rule would apply for creator rights (although the actual show performance would be in the public domain). Exactly who the creator would be is open to question.
And you also have to ask, since most of these shows were produced in the U.S., originally owned by the advertisers, and in the public domain, wouldn't that also translate to them being in the public domain in Canada due to the Geneva convention, and the rule of the shortest term? The answer is a resounding maybe, because of the complication of the NAFTA and NAFTA 2 treaties.
I suspect that OTR can be treated as public domain in Canada as well, until the courts rule otherwise. Although companies such as Radio Spirits, which use dubious agreements with individuals associated with these shows (and unsubstantiated ownership claims) to themselves claim full ownership, would disagree.
Practically speaking, these shows are freely available throughout the Internet, including the Internet Archive, and the only reason they exist today is through the efforts of collectors, first and foremost rescuing master transcription discs from the trash after they had been thrown out.
Too complicated for me!
Too complicated for me as well!
That's why I went and got a SOCAN license for my Internet stream. It's far easier to let them figure things out, as they're supposed to be the experts. It was also relatively cheap - I told them I was doing this just as a hobby, with few listeners, and they actually gave it to me.
I always have the option of giving up my Internet stream, although I'd rather not.
If I do go the route of getting an RSS123 license, I'd probably have to go back to playing public domain stuff only, including OTR, once again. At that point, I'd fall under a different section of the licensing rules (as I'm not using BETS), something similar to playing music to a captive audience in a store or other public venue, and that would be too much for my non existent budget.