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I was wondering about out-of-print music and how it comes back in print. Do the writers still retain their copyrights? Who determines when a record/CD will go out of print, and who makes it available again?

For instance, let's say there's a record I really loved that went out of print. How would one go about getting that record re-released?

  • I'm pretty sure that in most cases, the copyright ownership of a work won't change or lapse just due to the fact that the last disc in the run has gone out of the shop door... should the title reflect the second paragraph more than the first? – user16 Apr 8 '15 at 20:58
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To answer the rest of the question.

Recordings go "out of print" when the company that is printing the recording decides that sales do not justify printing any additional copies and the company's stockpile of prints have been exhausted.

Typically, vinyl and CD recordings, like books, are produced in a "print run" where a large number of copies of the same recording are produced at one time - typically thousands or even tens of thousands. The size of the print run is determined by how many copies the record company thinks will sell, but keeping in mind two factors.

  1. There are overhead costs for each print run so that, the more copies printed, the lower the manufacturing cost of each copy will be

  2. Unsold copies must be warehoused, which is also an overhead expense

For most recordings, there is a high initial demand and then a gradual fall-off. The recoding company's goal is to make as much money as possible by anticipating the sales curve and having enough, but not too many, copies to ship out to retailers.

If there is heavier than expected demand, or demand remains steady over time, then the company will order additional printings and the recording will continue to be "in print", possibly even indefinitely for recordings that become "classics". Otherwise, the stock of printed copies will eventually be exhausted, and at that point the recording will become out of print.

Some people reading this answer are thinking "does that really even matter with digital downloads"? And the answer is - sort of: some people like having physical media; but also, not entirely, as digital media is much less likely to go out of print, as printing and storage costs have been removed from the equation.

  • WRT: "as digital downloads never go out of print." Sure they do. I've got a bunch of unplayable WMAs that won't work anymore because the server their DRM requires doesn't exist anymore. I bet there's plenty of music once available on iTunes or elsewhere that isn't legally available anymore. HDTracks used to have several classic Prince albums (For You up to Parade), now they're gone. In fact there are plenty of digital-only Prince tracks that aren't available anymore. – BCdotWEB Apr 10 '15 at 8:44
  • Good point. I'll clarify my answer. – Donald.McLean Apr 10 '15 at 11:29
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In most of the world, the default length of copyright is the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years.

Wikipedia article

So, even though a particular recording is 'out of print' it doesn't mean that we can then reproduce the CD in question.

Also, there are in essence there are two separate elements in the copyright of a 'recording', the recording itself and the composition.

Reference article

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