... easily, at least. For now, at least.
Highlights from Library of Congress builds the record collection of the century (LA Times):
... according to a 2005 survey conducted for the [Library of Congress'] National Recording Preservation Board, of 1,521 recordings made from 1890 to 1964, only 14% has been made available to the public.
Matthew Barton, the recorded sound section curator of [the Library of Congress' $250-million Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation, a 45-acre vault and state-of-the-art preservation and restoration facility on Virginia's Mt. Pony], points out: "Anything else from before 1923 — a book, a movie, a published song, sheet music — is public domain now." Not so for the music in that same time period, and as a result, many recordings, even those that have been digitized, can't legally travel beyond the library's walls unless a morass of ownership issues can be unraveled. "The whole idea of copyright," DeAnna said, "is that eventually it does become public domain."
DeAnna points to so-called orphan works, for which the rights holders are not readily identifiable, as evidence of the confusion. A prime example is the Savory Collection of nearly 1,000 live recordings made by recording engineer William Savory in the late '30s, discs now residing with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. They encompass previously unknown extended performances by such musical luminaries captured in their prime as Ellington, Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Judy Garland, Artie Shaw and Chick Webb.
Museum director Loren Schoenberg said, "My goal is to have all of it, every last second of it, available on the Internet. If it was up to me, I'd just throw it on the Internet, let everybody sue each other and happy new year. But you can't do that, because you're dealing with [musicians'] estates, labels, record companies and publishers."
Whether a curious researcher will actually be able to play back what's stored in the vaults depends not only on copyright law, though, but also on the format.
"I love to give the example that the cylinder from 1900 may be easier to play back than the DAT [digital audiotape] from 2001," sound curator Barton said. "Seriously. There are a lot of DATs that just won't play now." ...
The most enduring formats? Not CDs or MP3 digital files.
"Vinyl discs properly stored will last hundreds of years," Miller said. "Shellac too."
Producer T Bone Burnett, a vocal champion of analog vinyl over digital audio, visited the library not long ago to discuss the issue. "He testified in front of us and said, 'I would encourage the Library of Congress to preserve to vinyl,'" DeAnna recalled. "We all kind of leaned forward, and my colleague said, 'So, Mr. Burnett are you preserving your own collection to vinyl?' He said, 'Nah, I'm doing all digital.'"