Copyright trolls and OTR
The little world of Old-Time Radio is in turmoil at the moment because the largest commercial vendor, Radio Spirits, has pulled a copyright coup of sorts. I stopped buying from them quite a while ago because they didn't feel right somehow ... so I'm not entirely surprised by this.
My favorite store, OtrCat.com, has had to stop selling a couple of items, but the main source of free
OTR, Archive.org, has been seriously depleted. You can read a good discussion among the Archive folks here.
Copyright law before 1998 followed common sense and common law. Intellectual property wasn't all that different from physical property. If you wanted to make money from it, you had to initially prove it was yours by registration, and then you had to maintain ownership by renewing the copyright. An abandoned book or song became common property after a certain number of years with no renewals, just as an abandoned house can be claimed after a certain number of years with no tax payments.
By those old standards, the vast majority of the OTR material would
be public domain by now. Much of it was produced by syndicators or networks that no longer exist; the major networks are still around, but they didn't bother to renew the copyrights because they had no monetary interest in distributing non-current shows. (For some reason "reruns" were profitable in TV but not in radio.)
In 1998, Walt Disney bought himself a Congress and created a whole new system. Under the Disney system, registration is not needed and there's no real deadline. If you can afford the lawyers,
you can claim just about anything as yours. Your claims may not ultimately stand up in trial, but if you can afford the lawyers,
you won't need to go to trial. The deterrent is sufficient.
In the small OTR universe, Radio Spirits can afford the lawyers and the other players can't.