Table of Contents
This circular provides a general summary of the statutory provisions dealing
with duration of copyright under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended June
26, 1992, and October 27, 1998.
WORKS ALREADY UNDER STATUTORY PROTECTION BEFORE 1978
For works that had already secured statutory copyright protection before
January 1, 1978, the 1976 law retains the old system for computing the duration
of protection, but with some changes.
Duration Under the Previous Law
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in unpublished form.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. The copyright was eligible for renewal
during the last (28th) year of the first term. If renewed, the copyright was
extended for a second term of 28 years.1 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.
1For a number of copyrights,
the second term was extended beyond 28 years by special legislation.
Effect of the Present Law on Length of Subsisting
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.2 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
2 Enactment of Public Law 105-298
extended the second 47-year term an additional 20 years.
Works originally copyrighted before 1950 and renewed before 1978:3
These works have automatically been given a longer copyright term. Copyrights
that had already been renewed and were in their second term at any time between
December 31, 1976, and December 31, 1977, inclusive, do not need to be renewed
again. They have been automatically extended to last for a total term of 95
years (a first term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 67 years) from the
end of the year in which they were originally secured. NOTE: This extension
applies not only to copyrights less than 56 years old but also to older copyrights
that had previously been extended in duration under a series of Congressional
enactments beginning in 1962. As in the case of all other copyrights subsisting
in their second term between December 31, 1976, and December 31, 1977, inclusive,
these copyrights will expire at the end of the calendar year in which the
95th anniversary of the original date of copyright occurs.
3 A special transitional situation
arose with respect to first-term copyrights that were originally secured in
1950 and that became eligible for renewal during the calendar year 1977. If
renewal registration was made before January 1, 1978, the duration of the
copyright was extended to the full period of 75 years without the need for
further renewal. However, even if renewal registration was not made before
January 1, 1978, renewal for the second 47-year term could be made under the
1976 law at any time between January 1, 1978, and December 31, 1978.
Works originally copyrighted between January 1, 1950, and December
31, 1963: Copyrights in their first 28-year term on January 1, 1978, still
had to be renewed in order to be protected for the second term. If a valid
renewal registration was made at the proper time, the second term will last
for 67 years. However, if renewal registration for these works was not made
within the statutory time limits, a copyright originally secured between 1950
and 1963 expired on December 31st of its 28th year, and protection was lost
Works originally copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December
31, 1977: The amendment to the copyright law enacted June 26, 1992, makes
renewal registration optional. The copyright is still divided between a 28-year
original term and a 67-year renewal term, but a renewal registration is not
required to secure the renewal copyright. The renewal vests on behalf of the
appropriate renewal claimant upon registration or, if there is no renewal
registration, on December 31 of the 28th year.
The benefits to making a renewal registration during the 28th year of
the original term of copyright are:
1. The renewal copyright vests in the name of the renewal claimant on the
effective date of the renewal registration.
For example, if a renewal registration is made in the 28th year and the
renewal claimant dies following the renewal registration but before the end
of the year, the renewal copyright is secured on behalf of that renewal claimant
and the 67 years of renewal copyright becomes a part of that individuals
Note: If the renewal registration is not made in the 28th year, the
renewal copyright will vest on the first day of the renewal term in the party
entitled to claim renewal as of December 31 of the 28th year.
2. The renewal certificate constitutes prima facie evidence as to the validity
of the copyright during the renewed and extended term and of the facts stated
in the certificate.
3. The right to use the derivative work in the extended term may be affected.
For example, if an author dies before the 28th year of the original term
and a statutory renewal claimant registers a renewal within the 28th year,
that claimant can terminate an assignment made by the deceased author authorizing
the exploitation of a derivative work. If a renewal is not made during the
28th year, a derivative work created during the first term of copyright under
a prior grant can continue to be used according to the terms of the grant.
Thus, an author or other renewal claimant loses the right to object to the
continued use of the derivative work during the second term by failing to
make a timely renewal, but any terms in the prior grant concerning payment
or use, e.g., a royalty, must continue to be honored. This exception does
not apply to a new derivative work which can only be prepared with the consent
of the author or other renewal claimant.
A renewal registration made after the 28th year will not confer the benefits
mentioned above but will confer other benefits denied to unregistered works.
For example, renewal registration establishes a public record of copyright
own-ership in a work at the time that the renewal was registered. The courts
have discretion to determine the evidentiary weight accorded a certificate
of renewal registration when registration is made after the 28th year of the
copyright term. Renewal registration is a prerequisite to statutory damages
and attorneys fees for published works not registered for the original
In cases where no original registration or renewal registration is made before
the expiration of the 28th year, important benefits can still be secured by
filing a renewal registration at any time during the renewal term. These benefits
would include, for example, statutory damages and attorney's fees in any infringement
suit for infringements occurring after the renewal registration is made. Also,
it is a requirement to get into court in certain circumstances under section
411(a), and it creates a public record both to defend against innocent infringers
and to facilitate easier licensing of the work.
Forms for renewal registration (Form RE) are available from:
Library of Congress
Publications Section, LM-455
101 Independence Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
To speak to an information specialist, call (202) 707- 3000 (TTY: 707-6737),
Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., eastern time, excluding federal
holidays. Recorded information is available 24 hours a day. Order forms and
other publications from:
Library of Congress
Publications Section, LM-455
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20559-6000
or call the Forms and Publications Hotline 24 hours a day at (202) 707-9100.
Access and download circulars, forms, and other information from the Copyright
Office Website at
For further information about the time limits and other requirements for
renewal registration, write or call and request Circular
15 , Renewal of Copyright. For specific information about
the extension of copyright terms for works already under statutory protection
before 1978, request Circular 15t, Extension of Copyright Terms.
WORKS ORIGINALLY CREATED ON AND AFTER JANUARY 1, 1978
For works that are created and fixed in a tangible medium of expression for
the first time on and after January 1, 1978, the Copyright Act of 1976 as
amended in 1998 establishes a single copyright term and different methods
for computing the duration of a copyright. Works of this sort fall into two
Works created on or after January 1, 1978: For works created
after its effective date, 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 authors life, plus an additional 70 years after the authors
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
authors death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous
works (unless the authors 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 in existence but not published or copyrighted on January
1, 1978: 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.
YEAR-END EXPIRATION OF COPYRIGHT TERMS
The law provides that all terms of copyright will run through the end of
the calendar year in which they would otherwise expire. This affects the duration
of all copyrights, including those subsisting in either their first or second
term on January 1, 1978. For works eligible for renewal, the renewal filing
period begins on December 31st of the 27th year of the copyright term.
TERMINATION OF GRANTS
As explained above, for works already under statutory protection before 1978,
the length of the renewal term has been increased to 67 years. This means
that, in most cases, 39 years have been added to the end of a renewal copyright.
The statute allows an author or specified heirs of the author to file a notice
terminating any grant of rights made by the author and covering any part of
that added period. This right to reclaim ownership of all or part of the extended
term is optional; it can be exercised only by certain specified persons in
accordance with prescribed conditions and within strict time limits.
It is possible to serve notice for copyrights that are nearly 76 years old.
For further information, request Circular 96, section 201.10, Notices
of Termination of Transfers and Licenses Covering Extended Renewal Term.
SPECIAL POINTS TO REMEMBER
Works Published or Copyrighted Before January 1, 1964: Works
published with notice of copyright or registered in unpublished form prior
to January 1, 1964, had to be renewed during the 28th year of their first
term of copyright to maintain protection for a full 95-year term.
Works Originally Copyrighted Between January 1, 1964, and December
31, 1977: These works are protected by copyright for the 28-year original
term and the 67-year renewal term without the need of a first term or a renewal
Copyrights in their second term on January 1, 1978, were automatically
extended up to a maximum of 95 years, without the need for further renewal.
Works already in the public domain cannot be protected under
the 1976 law or under the amendments of 1992 and 1998. The Act provides no
procedure for restoring protection for works in which copyright has been lost
for any reason.
|Note: Copyrights in certain foreign
works whose U.S. copyright protection had been lost because of noncompliance
with formalities of U.S. law were restored as of January 1, 1996, under
the provisions of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA). Such works
may be registered using Form GATT. For more information, request Circular
38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay
Round Agreements Act (URAA-GATT).