The project offers no direct financial gain to Sony, although the company will retain the rights for the commercial release of anything newly coming available.

“We’re going to release this site with more than 10,000 sides,” said Gene DeAnna, head of the library’s recorded sound section. “For this project, we’ve had to pull every copy of our Victor acoustic recordings, examine them all, and select what we thought was the best and send it upstairs for possible digitization.” DeAnna said he estimates there are roughly an equal number of Columbia discs that project officials expect to add to the Jukebox this year.

One major component of the project, which has been about two years in the making, is a digital discography of every Sony-owned acoustic 78-rpm recording, organized in a searchable database, prepared at UC Santa Barbara; each entry contains extensive information ranging from personnel on each recording, the date and locations they were made, down to which take from the recording session is on each disc.

The library’s files also will be the source for thousands of pages of documents and images of original labels, artist biographies, and other text and photographic material.

Copyright issues have kept thousands of recordings off the market, even when small labels have expressed interest in issuing them to the niche audiences they appeal to.

Because sound recordings didn’t get singled out for federal copyright law protection until 1972, ownership of pre-1972 recordings is complicated by an often impossible-to-unravel web of state or common laws governing them.

A proposal is making its way through Congress to bring earlier recordings under the 1972 law to enhance public access and ensure that at some point the recordings go into the public domain. As the law stands, many recordings dating as far back as 1890 will not enter the public domain before 2067, 177 years after they were made.

“It’s extremely exciting if even a corner of this starts to break the dam and get these things beyond the walls of Library of Congress,” USC’s Sampson said.

Add your opinion to the discussion.