Common-Law Copyright

79 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2016 Last revised: 24 Jun 2018

See all articles by Zvi S. Rosen

Zvi S. Rosen

Southern Illinois University School of Law

Date Written: September 3, 2016


Sound recordings made before 1972 are governed by a confusing array of state-law protections, the most notable of these being common law copyright. Although frequently treated as a pre-publication version of statutory copyright, common law copyright has less in common with statutory copyright than is generally assumed, and these differences have real effects on copyright holders and broadcasters. This piece aims to take the measure of common-law copyright and demonstrate that it is a substantially broader doctrine than statutory copyright in terms of what rights it grants to creators. Particular attention is paid to the right of public performance at common-law, which does not obey statutory limitations but instead offers blanket protection to rights holders.

Keywords: Copyright, Phonorecords, Sound Recordings, Common Law Copyright

Suggested Citation

Rosen, Zvi S., Common-Law Copyright (September 3, 2016). 85 U. Cinn. L. Rev. 1055 (2018), Available at SSRN: or

Zvi S. Rosen (Contact Author)

Southern Illinois University School of Law ( email )

1150 Douglas Drive
Carbondale, IL 62901-6804
United States

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