The early history of the so-called ‘neighbouring rights’, as part of the history of copyright, has so far been given very little attention by scholars. This article sheds light on a European contest over the rights in sound recordings during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. This forms an important part of the background to the Rome Convention of 1961. The article first looks separately at how musicians’ unions and the record industry were raising different demands for protective legislation, motivated by the use of new electronic media. At the beginning, no one imagined that these protections would be bundled together as ‘neighbouring rights’. While the International Labour Organization (ILO) put great efforts into creating a convention protecting only the performers, another actor turned out to be more influential in the long run, proposing a hierarchical bundling of rights in which only record companies were entitled to compensation for the use of recordings. This actor was the Fascist government of Italy. The article argues that there are some continuities from the legal philosophy of Italian Fascism to the system of ‘neighbouring rights’ established in the Rome Convention.