So there is a website that are hosting old cylinder recording from the end of the 1800's to about the 1920's. Think that I read that there is about ten thousand recordings and all of them easily downloaded!
For example there is 661 home recordings. Yes people could use the cylinders for recordings.
This website should be interesting to anyone needing some dust sprinkled beauty into their productions. Pretty much evident that there should be no worry about copy rights.
Even if not used for music it is a fascinating look at audio history and well worth a hangover Sunday of exploring.
Regarding the copyright here is what the project director David Seubert has said:
There are no public domain sound recordings in the United States, including these cylinder recordings. Recordings before 1972 are protected by state law but not federal copyright, which didn't cover sound recordings until March, 1972. We've digitized them for non-commercial private use and study. We have no issues with commercial use, but we encourage commercial users to a) do their own due diligence on their copyright status, and b) pay our use fees (which is a fee for access to our high resolution wav files, and is not a royalty). This collection is not a royalty free sound library and I can't turn it into one as that's not how these recordings were created. These are mostly commercial entertainment cylinders, just like any pop record made today (which you also can’t sample for free). Until “pre-1972 recordings” (as they are known) enter the public domain in 2067, they won't be. Blame Congress, not us. As to our fee structure, we can't raise our fees if somebody with deep pockets (HBO) wants access to the materials but we will negotiate down or waive them the use fees for artists of limited means.
We do claim a new, derivative work copyright on the restored version which is online. There is disagreement on this issue and we respect and follow that debate.
Our operation is very small, with two permanent staff, and we also operate the entire performing arts archive here at UCSB, including a massive archive of 78rpm discs and print and paper collections. I have a graduate student copying cylinders in the lab as we speak so the public can hear them, and his salary is funded by donations to the project. I’d love to give everything away, but until I have enough permanent funding to run the operation I also need a revenue source. That isn't likely in today's arts/higher education environment, sad to say.
To go listen and read: