Old music

A couple of years after the giant sucking sound coming from Cupertino was first heard in even the quieter parts of the record industry there can’t be much music released that isn’t available for download straight away somewhere or other and, for you cheapskates, the file sharing networks are bigger and more useful than ever. What I’ve been wondering, though, is “where is all the out-of-copyright stuff?”

Recordings made in the first half of the last century – hundreds of thousands of them presumably, from just about every nation and musical style on earth – are now out-of-copyright. Bunk Johnson, Caruso, Sophie Tucker, Mistinguett, The Carter Family, Toscanini, Big Bill Broonzy, George Formby: hundreds of artists should by now be available for download but it’s way too patchy.

Archive.org provides a lot of this material (especially 78s) but there don’t seem to be any dedicated out-of-copyright archives. Archiving and indexing this culturally important and hard-to-find material (as well as the movies and radio programmes and comic books and posters and magazines and theatre programmes and…) looks like a very useful (and entirely legal) job for the file sharing networks to tackle.

As an obvious public service, it might also insulate the P2P networks from further vandalism by the labels. It would certainly be harder for a witless Judge to switch off a network the majority of whose content was recorded before he was born than one pointlessly stuffed with already ubiquitous contemporary top 40 material.

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