Thousands of Public Domain
and non-copyrighted broadcasts no longer exist in kinescope or
video or in any other visual broadcast format. Thousands of "lost" original
television broadcasts are represented in our archive, but survive as audio only.
Performance and music clearances may be necessary if material is to
be reused. Rights status to some material is unknown. "Fair use"
statutes allow for certain copyrighted program excerpts to be reused.
This archive holds no rights to any material, and provides
only physical, tangible copies of television audio soundtracks, originally recorded off
the air in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, for personal use, by Archival Television Audio, and
by other original sources. No rights are given or implied when material is transacted to purchaser.
Commercial users must assume full responsibility for securing any
necessary clearances, if needed, or required authorization for whatever use they may make of the material. On January 1,
2003, tens of thousands of 1948-1977 "common law" unpublished TV
programs, until now protected by the 1909-1977 copyright act,
reverted to public domain status if they were not retroactively
copyrighted between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 2002.
When copyright law was
updated in 1976, Congress merged all copyright principles into a
unitary federal system. In the process, it eliminated the notion of
"common law copyright." Prior to this reform, if a work was
unpublished, it could remain the exclusive property of its owner and
his or her heirs forever. The critical dividing point was
publication. When a worked was sold, loaned, licensed, or given
away, the law deemed the work published and subject to all the
formalities of federal law. An entire body of copyright law
interpreting the instance of "publication" evolved because the
dividing point between published and unpublished works had dramatic
One important copyright rule is that "performance" is not
defined as publication because no copy changes hands. Hence, live
concerts are not publication of a musical score. By analogy, when
broadcasting began to impact copyright law, it was ruled that a
telecast was not a publication of work. If copies were sold or given
away, that would constitute a copyright publication. But the mere
airing of a program on radio or television did not constitute
publication. Thus, all the old network radio shows, which were
broadcast live in many cases, with recordings made simultaneously,
did not constitute published copyrighted works.
This means that a
body of work for which copyright registration was not secured
remained under common law copyright protection. Only if tapes of the
shows were distributed would the program cross the copyright divide.
At that point (but prior to 1978), failure to follow the formalities
created the potential that the work could fall into the public
domain. Complying with the formalities meant that the owner was
entitled to claim the benefits of federal copyright for the work
during the years it was protected.
While elimination of formalities has diminished the legal
significance of publication, the concept still has important
consequences. First of all, when the law was reformed in 1976,
common law copyrights were given a federal term of protection. Even
though they may have been created a century or more before, the term
of copyright protection for unpublished works was extended at least
to the year 2002. If they were published between 1978 and 2002, the
term would last until 2027. If not, they would lapse into public
domain status forever.
It is interesting to note that before 1972 sound recordings were not protected by copyright law, but only by
ambiguous and muddled state laws. The Feb. 15, 1972 copyright act, and the extended 1998 Bono copyright
extension act, solidified, and clarified sound recording copyright protection.
THE TELEVISION ARCHIVE AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
THE TELEVISION AUDIO ARCHIVE AT ARCHIVAL TELEVISION AUDIO
The Library of Congress, in Washington DC, started receiving, collecting & preserving television material in 1949. During
the first decades of television broadcasting the Library of Congress offered a broad but uneven view of television's
programming. The reason why so few, or no, episodes exist of the 50 million hours of programming and commercials
(1947-1968) broadcast during that span of time, is because many producers of early television did not seek to register
their programs, seeing little long-term commercial value for their product, or deciding that cumulative costs of
registering whole series were too high. And the owners who did wish to obtain copyright protection for early television
transmissions encountered the legal concepts of "fixation" and "publication." As had been previously established with
film, performances by broadcasting did not per se constitute publication. Publication came at a later point, when the
material had been fixed and offered for sale, lease or rental. If such was not the case then those other broadcasts not
sold, leased or rented maintained the status of not being published, not being copyrighted. Since the power of the Library
of Congress, to compel copyright holders to deposit copies, extended only to "published" works the mandatory deposit
features of U.S. copyright law were shown to be inadequate to the task of assuming the orderly development of a
comprehensive TV archive." Legal precedent had made it clear that a network broadcast did not constitute publication. And,
most programs such as talk shows, sporting events, news, and variety and game shows were only aired once, never
kinescoped, or after October 1956, never video-taped, and thus never syndicated at all. Because the Library of Congress
depended heavily on copyright deposits, through voluntary registration for its television acquisitions, the result of this
legal morass was that the collection grew unevenly. So, a complex mix of copyright-related issues, interacting with other
factors, account in large part for the dearth of early television in the Library.
During the 1950s, and 1960s there was an attitude held by the Library of Congress acquisitions officers toward television
programming which paralleled that of the scholarly community in general. The Library simply UNDERESTIMATED THE SOCIAL AND
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FULL RANGE OF TELEVISION PROGRAMMING. There was no appreciation of TELEVISION'S FUTURE
RESEARCH VALUE. Archiving television's programming was an arcane pursuit. And, that is why the Archival Television Audio,
Inc. collection, containing thousands of "lost" TV broadcast soundtracks, is so significant. These tracks, in the
archive, exist as the only broadcast record, representing a specific lost television program.
BEFORE THE MID-1960's, FEW TV PROGRAMS WERE ACQUIRED FOR THE Library's COLLECTIONS. FEW TELEVISION PROGRAMS WERE
COPYRIGHTED. Of television shows registered for copyright during these years, the Library chose only an occasional
sample. The library never purchased or solicited television programs not available through copyright. Thus, broadcasts
literally disappeared after their one and only airing or repeat airing. Only surviving 1/4" reel to reel TV Audio
Airchecks have kept the essence of those lost broadcasts alive.
By December 1979 the Library of Congress had acquired only 14,000 copyrighted programs, less than the
inventory of programs currently existing as TV soundtracks in the collection of Archival Television Audio, Inc. Our
archive contains thousands of original TV audio aircheck broadcasts which are one-of-a-kind, not existing anywhere else
including The Library of Congress.