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Royalty Free Music > Public Domain Music > Public Domain Radio

The copyright laws that govern radio are complicated because of its age as a technology. Many recorded radio shows have entered the public domain, and some organizations have catalogued them throughout the years, including the Library of Congress. These early recorded radio programs offer a variety of interesting historical records, including news programs, performances of classical music , variety shows and radio plays.

The development of radio for news and entertainment was one of the major advances of the 20th Century. AT & T experimented with trying to connect telephone lines, loud speakers and radio transmitters starting in 1919 inspired a plot to design an entire national radio network that would be supported by advertisements during a time when most people did not even know what radio was. They announced the plan on February 11, 1922 and began to broadcast a variety of shows from WEAF in New York City that featured everything from news reports and editorial commentary to classical music and jazz performances. From 1922 to 1926, AT & T was the major broadcasting company in the United States. It was this company that set the bar for the entire radio industry.

A collection of entrepreneurial companies, including General Electric, Westinghouse, and their subsidiary, the Radio Corporation of America saw radio as an incredible business and cultural opportunity, but knew they would have a problem affording to lease the telephone lines and other complex equipment necessary to broadcast radio programs. Their break came in 1926 when AT&T decided running a radio network was too much of a commitment on top of their already overwhelming control over the telephone lines in the United States, and in May 1926, control of the original WEAF station and its operations were transferred to this group of companies, called collectively the Broadcasting Company of America. Eventually, AT & T decided to sell WEAF and all the radio group companies involved in production for the price of $1,000,000, and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was formed. The WEAF radio network was renamed "NBC-Red" network, and then eventually the "NBC-Blue" network in September of 1926. The radio network started to add more than just news broadcasts and classical music and jazz music performances to its repertoire, giving birth to many of the most popular radio variety shows and on-going stories.

Radio was one of the first developments in creative technology to challenge existing copyright laws, which at that time only provided reliable protection for literary works and visual art pieces. Many supporters of "free" radio over the years have argued that because airwaves are technically free, they are public domain, and thus most broadcast radio should be free as well and not subject to copyrighting. Regardless of opinion, all radio shows created before January 1, 1978 fall under the Copyright Act of 1909 instead of the Copyright Act of 1976, as copyright law is not retroactive, and pieces registered before any law change are subject to follow the guidelines under the law that existed during the time they registered the copyright.

Because the laws in 1909 certainly did not predict the technological complexity of radio, almost all programs created before 1978 have become part of public domain radio. Once a radio show becomes part of the public domain, it cannot be copyrighted. According to the Library of Congress, the entity responsible for tracking copyrights and archiving television, radio and film productions, old radio shows and sound recordings un-copyrighted and created prior to 1978 are part of the public domain. However, producers, directors and creators of public domain radio programs were given an opportunity to renew copyrights from 1978-1979 when the law changed in order to reverse the status of their creative works. Because of the age of many of these programs, many creators had already passed away or did not have interest in taking their programs out of the public domain, and thus most radio programs remained. In fact, absolutely no United States radio broadcasts were submitted to the Library during this time from the period of 1929 - 1950; only several foreign language programs made their way into the archives.

Because lawsuits that challenge anything in public domain radio need to be brought forth by the original copyright holder of the work and not a representative, it can be fairly certain that most early radio broadcasts now within the public domain must and will be kept there forever. Similarly, because most did not bother to copyright their work, believing, as in the case of television, that radio was perhaps a temporary installment not capable of becoming a culturally valuable and lasting medium, even those still living would be hard-pressed to argue that works should be taken out of the public domain radio collection without an official registered copyright. offers the opportunity for lovers of old time radio to enjoy the many public domain radio programs available to the public, for historical study, or simply good entertainment.

The following list contains examples of radio programs that have fallen into the public domain:

Abbot and Costello; Laurel and Hardy, Roy Rogers, Benny Goodman; Bob Hope Show; Cloak and Dagger; A Date with Judy; Al Jolson Show; Big Bands; Gunsmoke; Gene Autrey; Boris Karloff; Hopalong Cassidy; Buck Rogers; Batman, and others.

An Introduction to Copyright Laws for the United States

Confirming and Documenting Public Domain Status

Creative Commons Licenses

Royalty Free Music and the Public Domain





Fair Use

Basic Rules of Fair Use

The Considerations of Fair Use

The Definition of Fair Use

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