By Andrew Hudson November 6, 2013
Under U.S. Copyright Law, works created in the U.S. before January 1, 1978 but not published or registered by that date are protected by copyright for the life of the creator plus 70 years. Works created on or after Jan. 1, 1978 are protected for the creator’s life plus 70 years.
“Copyright in a work created on or after January 1, 1978, subsists from its creation and, except as provided by the following subsections, endures for a term consisting of the life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death.”
How Long Copyright Protection Endures
Works Originally Created on or after January 1, 1978
A work that was created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death. In the case of “a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire,” the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author’s death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Works Originally Created Before January 1, 1978, But Not Published or Registered by That Date
These works have been automatically brought under the statute and are now given federal copyright protection. The duration of copyright in these works is generally computed in the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: the lifeplus70 or 95/120year terms apply to them as well. The law provides that in no case would the term of copyright for works in this category expire before December 31, 0, and for works published on or before December 31, 0, the term of copyright will not expire before December 31, 2047.
Works Originally Created and Published or Registered before January 1, 1978
Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a work was published with a copyright notice or on the date of registration if the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1, 1978, or for pre1978 copyrights restored under the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75 years. Public Law 105298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total term of protection of 95 years.
Public Law 102307, enacted on June 26, 1992, amended the 1976 Copyright Act to provide for automatic renewal of the term of copyrights secured between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977. Although the renewal term is automatically provided, the Copyright Office does not issue a renewal certificate for these works unless a renewal application and fee are received and registered in the Copyright Office.
Public Law 102307 makes renewal registration optional. Thus, filing for renewal registration is no longer required to extend the original 28year copyright term to the full 95 years. However, some benefits accrue to renewal registrations that were made during the 28th year.