New York Times
August 21, 2010
For jazz fans, nothing could be more tantalizing than the excerpts made available by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem of newly discovered recordings from the 1930s and ’40s. Nearly 1,000 discs containing performances by masters like Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and the long-neglected Herschel Evans suddenly re-emerged when the son of the audio engineer, William Savory, sold them to the museum.
The museum is doing its best to clean up and digitize the recordings. But because of the way copyright laws work, excerpts may be all that fans can hear for some time. The museum paid for the discs, but cannot distribute the music until it has found a way to compensate the estates of the musicians, many of which may be very difficult to track down after all these decades. Hawkins’s saxophone solo on “Body and Soul” may be reason enough for Congress to revisit this issue and free historical documents from excessive legal fetters.
Copyright laws are designed to ensure that authors and performers receive compensation for their labors without fear of theft and to encourage them to continue their work. The laws are not intended to provide income for generations of an author’s heirs, particularly at the cost of keeping works of art out of the public’s reach.