Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to the Editor of The Times

Letter No.: 
Wednesday 24 October, 1956

38, Russell Square, W.C.1.

In the year which has passed since October 1, 1955, when you printed an article entitled “An Archive of Recorded Sound: Source Material for History,” the collection of “short-playing” records in the possession of the British Institute of Recorded Sound Limited – a non-profit-making voluntary body assisted by the Arts Council, the London County Council, the Charles Henry Foyle Trust, and more recently by the Pilgrim Trust – has grown to 25,000.  Many of these records have been given by the public, who have, however, provided few of the modern type of “long-playing” record.
The means of keeping this national collection – for that is what it was established to be – abreast of current publications does not at present exist: but Parliament has an opportunity during the third reading of the Copyright Bill of considering an amendment which would make obligatory the deposit of two copies of selected records in the British Museum – which it is suggested would have the power to transfer the records to the institute to conserve and make accessible.  (Similar laws for records have been in force for many years in France and Italy, and the 1911 Copyright Act compels the deposit in the British Museum of all books and printed music published in the British Isles.)
During the committee stage the President of the Board of Trade was unable to accept the clause, but in our view statutory deposit is the only practical way of maintaining a comprehensive collection of records: many go “out of print” every year – not only classical music recorded by our greatest performers and sometimes by the composers themselves, but also folk music performed by traditional musicians; poetry recorded by the poets and our finest actors; the utterances of statesmen.
Will not posterity blame us, who to-day have the technical means, if we do not make the necessary effort to conserve this priceless heritage of speech and music?
Yours faithfully,
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Robert Robinson, Edith Evans, T.S. Eliot, C.M. Bowra.

General notes: 

Printed in The Times newspaper, Wednesday, 24 October, 1956, headed "Copyright Bill".

The Times (no.53670), Wednesday, October 24, 1956, p.11.