The Law and Transferring Analog Cassette Tapes to Digital

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShould you convert your cassette tapes to digital formats?  This is a great topic that includes some areas that are debated daily by a lot of people.

Is this cassette a personal recording (family conversations or gatherings, etc.)?

Is this cassette a copyrighted recording?

If it is copyrighted, are you the holder of the copyright?

Is this cassette a professional recording of copyrighted material?

Here are few considerations when converting and the legality involved.  The following information also applies to all recorded material that you wish to copy like CD’s, Cassette’s, 8 Track tapes and vinyl records.

Copyrighted Material

You have a cassette tape of your favorite 70’s band that you want to be able to play on your MP3 player.  This is a copyrighted product and law prohibits you from making a copy in any format. So the correct answer in the United States is NO: you cannot copy that recording because you do not hold the copyright.

Now as a side bar, will the record companies or the artist track you down and prosecute you?  Not likely!

In some public statements record companies have said they don’t mind when someone who has purchased a tape makes an upgraded copy for themselves.  The record companies also have stated that they don’t mind if you make a CD back up of your legally purchased CD.

Now this does hit a gray area because you have to be very careful with what you do with this conversion or backup.  For instance, if you make more then one copy and give one to a friend or even a family member, that still constitutes as distribution (even if you didn’t sell it!).  This big violation currently has a penalty of $250,000 and up to five years behind bars.  Ouch!

Personal Recordings (Non-Copyrighted)

If you have a personal cassette or some other format that you want to make a digital copy of, you can do so as long as it is not copyrighted. In today’s world it is not very hard to do.  You can contact just about any recording studio and they can convert it for you, or you can acquire the tools and do it yourself.

You can look online and find production companies, transfer houses or recording studios that specialize in analog to digital transfer.

You may have the ability with your own computer to do it yourself.  Computers come with a basic audio program that will record audio and burn to CD or save as MP3 files. You can also go online and find free software programs and free trials that do this.

One of the differences between having it done by a professional house and doing it yourself is that the professional has trained audio engineers who can remove tape hiss and add noise reduction professionally to restore the sound to today’s standards.  Tape hiss is the steady airy type sound that you can hear in between songs or during pauses on the tape.


Professionals also will make sure that the levels meet the industry standard and the sound is restored professionally.  Pros have the tools to do it right and they know how to use those tools.  So if you would like your analog to digital recording to sound the best, look for a pro to help.  If it is just for you and you don’t mind spending the time, go ahead and do it yourself.

In the end, you can make a copy of an analog tape as long as the copy is for personal use and the law does not prohibit you from making a copy.  You can also copy your own material.  Use audio software or take advantage of professional services to restore the sound when transferring your analog tape to a digital format.

One Response to “The Law and Transferring Analog Cassette Tapes to Digital”

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