Because copyright laws have changed over the years, the duration of copyright protection is largely determined by when the work was originally created. This post offers a brief overview of the laws that apply to works copyrighted before and after the 1976 Copyright Act came into effect.
Copyright Duration for Post-1976 Works
A work that is created and fixed in tangible form for the first time on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected under U.S. copyright law. The protection lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after his or her death. If multiple authors jointly prepare a work, the copyright protection endures 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 the Copyright Office records), the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is less.
Works created before the 1976 law came into effect but neither published nor registered for copyright before January 1, 1978, have been automatically awarded federal copyright protection. The term of the copyright protection follows the same rules outlined above. However, all works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection.
Copyright Duration for Pre-1976 Works
Prior to 1976, copyright protection required the work be published with notice of copyright or registration with the Copyright Office. Itt initially lasted for term of 28 years from the date on which it was secured. After the first term expired, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The 1976 Copyright Act extended the renewal term from 28 to 67 years for copyrights in existence on January 1, 1978.
For works registered prior to January 1, 1964, the copyright still must have been renewed in the 28th calendar year to receive the 67-year period of added protection. Copyright amendments enacted June 26, 1992, automatically extended this second term for works first copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977.
As this post highlights, determining whether a copyright is still valid often requires careful research and legal analysis. Therefore, it is imperative to consult with an experienced copyright attorney such as myself.
Source: U.S. Copyright Office