Life of Copyright

The Copyright Law has gone through many changes and revisions over the years, so the life of any particular copyright is determined by a variety of factors.  These include when the song was written, the date the song was first registered for copyright, if the song was published with notice prior to registration, if filing a renewal was necessary and if it was filed, and the life of the creators.

  • For works created after January 1, 1978, the U.S. copyright law adopts the basic “life-plus-seventy” system already in effect in most other countries. A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is given a term lasting for the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.
  • In the case of “a joint work”, created by two or more authors but not made as a 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 first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
  • Works that had been created before the current law came into effect but had neither been published nor registered for copyright before January 1, 1978, automatically are given federal copyright protection. The duration of copyright in these works will generally be computed in the same way as for new works: the life-plus-70 or 95/120-year terms will apply to them as well. However, all works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. The law specifies that in no case will copyright in a work of this sort expire before December 31, 2002, and if the work is published before that date the term will extend another 45 years, through the end of 2047.
  • Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a work was published or on the date of registration if the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case, the copyright lasted for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured, and if renewed, the copyright was extended for a second term of 28 years.  If not renewed, the copyright expired at the end of the first 28-year term. The term of copyright for works published with a year date in the notice that is earlier than the actual date of publication is computed from the year date in the copyright notice.
  • For a number of copyrights, the second term was extended beyond 28 years by special legislation.
  • The old system of computing the duration of protection was carried over into the 1976 statute with one major change: the length of the second term is increased to 67 years.  Thus, the maximum total term of copyright protection for works already protected by federal statute is increased from 56 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 28 years) to 95 years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years).
  • The specific situation for works copyrighted before 1978 depends on whether the copyright had already been renewed or was still in its first term on December 31, 1977.
  • Enactment of Public Law 105-298 extended the second 47-year term an additional 20 years.

There are other variables which can affect the length of protection of a specific work.   At Legacyworks, LLC we are happy to examine and discuss your individual situation.

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