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UCLA Entertainment Law Review

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Remembering the CLASSICs: Impact of the CLASSICs Act on Memory Institutions, Orphan Works, and Mass Digitization


The Music Modernization Act (MMA) promised to revolutionize the role of copyright in the music industry for artists, businesses, and entertainment lawyers alike. Title II of the MMA, the Classics Protection and Access Act (CLASSICs Act), extended federal copyright protection to pre–1972 sound recordings. Advocates for the CLASSICs Act focused largely on its impact for pre–72 sound recording artists, who now possess a federally protected digital performance right in their recordings. In the wake of the CLASSICs Act, however, scholars and practitioners will need to reckon with the Act’s consequences for the millions of pre–72 sound recordings held and preserved by another group: American memory institutions.

Museums, libraries, archives, and other memory institutions have long advocated for federalization of copyright in pre–72 sound recordings as a superior alternative to the fifty-state patchwork that previously governed their collections. Now that federalization has happened—and tens of millions of sound recordings have been pulled within the umbrella of federal copyright protection—it is time to evaluate whether and how the CLASSICs Act helps memory institutions to engage in publicly beneficial uses of their pre–72 sound recording collections.

This paper considers the impact of the CLASSICs Act on memory institutions’ ability to combat two of the most significant legal challenges that they face: orphan works and mass digitization. Although the CLASSICs Act is at best a partial solution for orphan works and mass digitization, it has fundamentally changed the landscape for memory institution use of pre–72 sound recordings. A thorough understanding of the Act’s implications will be crucial not only for memory institutions attempting to comply with copyright law, but also for the scholars and practitioners looking to advance future research and copyright reforms.

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