Kinda like Google Books for LP’s

Just heard about this, fascinating.  Amoeba Records, a for-profit indie record store (and a great one) with several locations in California, is digitizing old out of print LP’s…. on an “opt out” basis ala Google Books.

If they haven’t made contact with the copyright holder, they put profits in escrow for the artist (or, erm, rightsholder(s)?  Music rights are complicated and way beyond my understanding).

Some Vinyl Vaults artists have proven so elusive that even diligent detective work could not track them down. Henderson points to an unknown ’70s country artist known only as C.J., whose album “My Lady’s Eyes” is for sale on the site.

“We couldn’t find C.J.; we couldn’t find a label that put the record out,” Henderson says. “But it’s a compelling piece, (so) we said, ‘This should be up.’ ”

Weinstein adds that if a sale is made, the money goes into an escrow account. “If (someone says), ‘That’s mine,’ well, OK, we can either take it down or we’ll sell it, and you’ve got this nice (digital) master. We’ll sell it, we’ll promote it; let’s sign a contract.”

I am generally pleased they are doing this. Old LP’s need digitizing. I am happy if it helps Amoeba stay in business. It sounds like their approach is fair…

…which doesn’t mean it’s legal. The opt-out nature they describe above is similar to the kind of thing that got Google Books and HathiTrust sued…. except it’s actually less legally defensible because they aren’t just using “snippets”, they really are selling complete digitized work.  (HathiTrust one, but may not have if they had been a for-profit endeavor, let alone selling complete copies!  Google Books lawsuit is still unresolved).

I wonder how deep their legal risk analysis went, and what that analysis was, or if they are just kind of doing it naively, or what.  Either way, it doesn’t neccesarily mean they’ll get sued…. but the ‘performing rights organizations’ for music like BMI employ armies of people who’s jobs it is to ‘protect music rights’ by extracting licensing fees. On the other hand, I guess this isn’t a ‘performance rights’ issue; like I said, music rights are complicated and mostly confuse me.

But I hope it works out for them, and all the artists involved.

It also saddens me that this kind of truly essential work of preserving cultural heritage…. would probably never be done by a library, for a variety of reasons including the possible legal risk, but also just plain lack of interest, lack of resources, lack of institutional motivation.


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