American Folk Legend
Woody Guthrie's recordings, virtually all made in the 1940s, are in the public domain in Europe, where copyright extends only 50 years. That means anyone who wants to can release a Guthrie album without licensing the material or paying royalties. Golden Stars' three-disc Guthrie box set American Folk Legend is a good example. Running an hour and 52 minutes and containing 42 tracks, the contents could have fit onto two CDs easily. The collection has no annotations beyond song titles and songwriting credits. It appears that all the unnamed compilers did was take some of the recent Guthrie collections made in the U.S. by Smithsonian Folkways and copy a bunch of the tracks. For example, "Farmer-Labor Train" was released for the first time on Smithsonian Folkways' Long Ways to Travel in 1994. It might sound as if taking another company's CD and copying it would constitute counterfeiting and therefore be illegal, but apparently that's not the case given the disparity in copyright law. (This ought to mean, though, that albums like this would not be for sale in the U.S.; in practice, they are readily available, not only through mail order, but often at retail as well.) Since the Smithsonian Folkways albums boasted cleaned-up fidelity, the sound here is usually quite good. And many of Guthrie's best-known songs are included, among them "This Land Is Your Land," "Pastures of Plenty," "So Long (It's Been Good to Know Yuh)" (with special lyrics relating to World War II), "Do-Re-Mi," "Pretty Boy Floyd," and "Grand Coulee Dam." So, a casual fan buying this album at a modest price would get a reasonable Guthrie collection, despite the skimpy packaging and miscellaneous selection and sequencing. But, of course, this album simply is not in the same league with the Smithsonian Folkways albums.