Ancient recordings rot undigitized thanks to ℗ snags

At The Economist, Glenn Fleishmann examines the elaborate legal maze surrounding copyright in sound recordings, whose duration varies wildly for the strangest reasons.

The sound of Thomas Edison's first recorded words in 1877 are lost, but he said they were, "Mary had a little lamb". Had the cylinder containing that utterance survived, it would remain firmly under copyright protection in America at least until 2067. A quirk of the federal copyright law with regard to recordings means that nearly all music, spoken word, and other aural treats produced before the early 1970s are currently protected until the second half of the 21st century. Sonically speaking, the public domain is a wasteland.

The special copyright symbol in the headline, assuming it has rendered correctly, is the sound recording copyright symbol; the "p" stands for "phonogram."

The sound of silence [Babbage at The Economist]