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How Long is a Copyright Valid?

2 minute read
How Long is a Copyright Valid?
What is copyright? How does my work get protected? These are the basic questions one asks when trying to understand how to copyright their work.

The copyright duration in the US depends on a number of things. One must consider whether the work is published or not. If published, the next question is if it was published first in the US or abroad. Copyrights can be confusing at times so we have prepared this article to provide a better understanding of how Copyrights work. If you have any further questions, feel free to book an appointment for a free 15-minute consultation call with Lloyd & Mousilli.

Is the work published?

Before you can determine how long a work’s copyright protection will last you must know whether the work has been published. The current copyright act (The 1976 Act) defines “publication” as the distribution of (or offer to distribute) copies of the work to the general public in the U.S.

Note: The 1976 Act applies to works published after January 1, 1978. Works published before January 1, 1978, are governed by the previous act (the 1909 Act).

The 1909 Act did not define publication. However, case law under that act distinguished between “limited” publication (distribution to a select group, for a limited purpose) and “general” publication. In a general publication, copies of the work are made available to the general public without restrictions.

If, YES:

Was the work published in the US?

  1. No
  2. Yes

Not only does a work’s published or unpublished status affect the length of the copyright protection, but the country it was first published does also. You will have to research and verify in the US Copyright Office records.

If, NO:

Is the work a corporate work (work made for hire) or is the author anonymous or pseudonymous?

  1. No – Copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years after his or her death. If the work is a joint work, term is for the last surviving author’s life plus 70 years.
  2. Yes – Copyright term is 120 years from the date the work was created.

The length of US copyright protection depends on whether the work’s author is an identifiable, individual person (or persons in the case of joint work) or not.

In the case of unpublished works where there is no known “author’s life” by which to measure the copyright term (such as works for hire, anonymous or pseudonymous works), the term is measured from the date the work was created.

What is a work made for hire?

A work made for hire is a work created by an employee as part of his or her job, or by an independent contractor who (before creating the work) signed an agreement transferring ownership of the copyright to the employer.

No unpublished works entered the public domain until January 1, 2003

When Congress passed the 1976 Act, it decided that the copyright term for unpublished works created before January 1, 1978, would in no event expire before December 31, 2002.

Unpublished works for hire, anonymous, and pseudonymous that were created more than 120 years ago (1886) are now in the public domain.

Hopefully, this article helps you understand the duration of copyright. If you have questions about your work, feel free to contact us.

Read more about copyright here.

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Reviewed By

Feras Mousilli

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