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'I Can't Hear It'

If there's an old sound recording you have on vinyl disc that you'd like to "upgrade" to a more contemporary format, such as a compact disc, you may have trouble finding it.

Sheet music cover for "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa Jack Benny (left) and Fred Allen, three-quarter length portrait, standing before microphone, facing each other

The Library of Congress recently announced the results of its commissioned study on the nation's audio heritage. The study found that most of America's historical sound recordings have become virtually inaccessible-available neither commercially nor in the public domain.

Laws still protect the rights to fully 84 percent of recordings of interest to collectors and scholars made in the United States between 1890 and 1964. Of those protected, rights holders have reissued only 14 percent on compact disc. This means that the vast majority of historically important sound recordings are available for hearing only through private collectors or at research libraries that collect the nation's audio heritage and have the equipment to play obsolete recordings.

Significant recordings unavailable legally in the United States include the John Philip Sousa band's cylinder recordings of his most famous march, "Stars and Stripes Forever," Rudy Vallee's 1931 recording of "As Time Goes By" and Hoagy Carmichael's first recording of "Star Dust." Although bandleader Bob Crosby's 1930s and 1940s recordings for Decca are unavailable in America, many compact discs of these recordings are available on European labels.

The study, "Survey of Reissues of U.S. Recordings," grew out of a congressional directive to establish the National Recording Preservation Board at the Library of Congress to study the state of sound-recording archiving, preservation and restoration activities.

Established by the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000, the advisory National Recording Preservation Board is appointed by the Librarian of Congress and consists of representatives from professional organizations of composers, musicians, musicologists, librarians, archivists and the recording industry. Among the issues that Congress charged the board to examine were access to historical recordings, the role of archives and the effects of copyright law on access to recordings.

As part of its more than 200-year-old mission, the Library of Congress plays an active role in the preservation of the nation's cultural heritage. The National Recording Preservation Board is one of three components mandated by the Preservation Act. The Act also calls for the Librarian of Congress to name 50 recordings annually to the National Recording Registry. The third component of the legislation calls for the formation of a foundation for the preservation of recordings.

Like its companion National Film Registry, for films, the Recording Registry was established to help make people aware of the need to preserve the nation's audio heritage and to name important and representative works to the Registry that are worthy of preservation.

A. John Philip Sousa, composer. Sheet music cover for "Stars and Stripes Forever," 1898. Duke University. Reproduction information: see:

B. [Jack Benny (left) and Fred Allen, three-quarter length portrait, standing before microphone, facing each other]. A Jack Benny radio program from 1948 was added to the National Recording Registry in 2004. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-119958 (b&w film copy neg.) May be restricted: Information on reproduction rights available in LC P&P Restrictions Notebook; Call No.: NYWTS - BIOG--Allen, Fred--Comedian--Dead <item> [P&P].