Rare Arabic 78 RPM Records Enter the Public Domain

Pub­lic Domain Day is not just about the famous works that get released—-this year Mil­ne’s Win­nie-the-Pooh and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Ris­es were the best known-—but the archives that sud­den­ly open up when any poten­tial argu­ment over copy­right bypass­es its sell-by date.

For exam­ple, Harvard’s Loeb Music Library has just released a selec­tion from its 600-vol­ume 78rpm col­lec­tion of Arab and Arab-Amer­i­can music from the ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry. The Library’s col­lec­tion spans rough­ly 1903 to the 1950s and is not just a record of the aes­thet­ics and the time of the Nah­dah Era (the Arab Renais­sance), but it also serves as a his­to­ry of the still-young music indus­try. Among the RCA, Colum­bia, and Vic­tor labels, you will also find many inde­pen­dent (and boot­leg!) labels.

Harvard’s web­site notes:

Arab record com­pa­nies, such as Baidaphon and Cairophon, are only a few among many oth­er Amer­i­can (Colum­bia, Vic­tor), Euro­pean (Odeon, Orfeon), and Arab-Amer­i­can com­pa­nies (Al-Chark, Alam­phon) that record­ed and released these notable Arab voic­es. Songs and per­form­ers from Egypt, Syr­ia, Lebanon, Pales­tine, Iraq and Al-Maghrib exhib­it the rich tra­di­tion of Ara­bic musi­cal forms, name­ly the art of al-mawwāl (vocal impro­vi­sa­tion), qaṣī­dah (sung poems), muwashshaḥ (Andalu­sian sung poet­ry), ṭaqṭūqah (pop songs) and taqsīm (instru­men­tal impro­vi­sa­tion. Reli­gious chants are also an impor­tant piece of the Ara­bic musi­cal tra­di­tion. The col­lec­tion includes Qur’anic recita­tion of Al-shaykh Ṭāhā Al-Fash­nī and a rare record of a woman reciter Wadū­dah Al-Minyalawī along­side Chris­t­ian hymns of Father Gigis ʻAzīz Al-Jiz­zīnī.

A selec­tion of record­ings are avail­able here for both online lis­ten­ing and down­load, using the Aviary Plat­form.

All this is hap­pen­ing due to the Music Mod­ern­iza­tion Act of 2018, which dif­fers in its pub­lic-domain release dates by a few years com­pared to print and film. Accord­ing to Cit­i­zen DJ, a web­site we told you about sev­er­al years ago, “all sound record­ings pub­lished before Jan­u­ary 1, 1923 entered the pub­lic domain on Jan­u­ary 1, 2022.”

The trick of course is get­ting access to all of these record­ings. The Library of Con­gress runs a site called The Nation­al Juke­box, with access to thou­sands of 78rpm records from Vic­tor and Colum­bia labels. That allows you to lis­ten but not down­load.


The Asso­ci­a­tion for Record­ed Sound Col­lec­tions also has a page not­ing “Ten Notable Pre-1923 Record­ings”, which ben­e­fits from its cura­tion. It fea­tures impor­tant ear­ly works like Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” one of the most pop­u­lar “race records” (i.e. vocal blues sung by Black per­form­ers) of 1920; Enri­co Caruso’s “Vesti La Giub­ba,” which fea­tures the tenor at the height of his career; and Vess L. Ossman’s record­ing of Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” which helped pop­u­lar­ize the com­pos­er. Also see our recent post: 400,000+ Sound Record­ings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2022: The Sun Also Ris­es, Win­nie-the-Pooh, Buster Keaton Come­dies & More

Meet the Oud, the “King of All Instru­ments” Whose Ori­gins Stretch Back 3500 Years Ago to Ancient Per­sia

The Great Gats­by Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain and There’s a New Graph­ic Nov­el

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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  • John G. DEACON says:

    If you would be so kind as to exam­ine my web­site http://www.johndeacon.biz you will estab­lish the mod­est part I played, over sev­er­al decades, in the man­u­fac­ture and dis­tri­b­u­tion of near­ly all the major Arab record labels from the fac­to­ry of EMI Greece (for­mer­ly The Colum­bia Grapho­phone Co. of Greece) where I was Sales Direc­tor (1971–77). That fac­to­ry and 4‑studio facil­i­ty was found­ed c.1926 (with even­tu­al­ly a total 380 employ­ees) and where the man­u­fac­ture of LPs, musi­cas­settes & 8‑track car­tridges for the Arab world (exclud­ing the Maghreb which was large­ly run by the Club du Disque Arabe (CDA) out of Paris — where its late own­er Mr.Ahmed Hachlef had been in charge of Arab musics at Pathé Mar­coni — lat­er EMI Pathé Mar­coni and then just EMI France). Your web­site, cov­er­ing this sub­ject, has just been brought to my atten­tion and I have cir­cu­lat­ed details of it to numer­ous fig­ures in the field (and even in some cas­es to their descen­dants) and I hope I am await­ing that an inter­est­ing dia­logue — notably on the sub­ject of copy­right pro­tec­tion last­ing 100 years ! There very are few in the world who will agree with that one !!

    At my web­site — and apart from bio­graph­i­cal details — is a sep­a­rate arti­cle on the mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the HMV Alexan­dria 1926 record­ings of Oum Koul­soum by the Nass­er gov­ern­ment. This was pre­pared with assis­tance from EMI’s for­mer Chief Coun­sel Guy Mar­riott and Dr. Michael Frishkopf of Alber­ta Uni­ver­si­ty.

    John G. Dea­con
    Sales Direc­tor, EMI Greece (1971–11) & founder of Conifer Records (UK)
    Tel. +44 7375 846242

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