How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

Related Ads

By

Copyright law is intended to give the owner of the work a monopoly for a limited number of years. After that, it falls into the public domain for anyone to use. But how long does copyright last?

When U.S. copyright laws were first created in the 18th Century, they protected works for fourteen years. In the last century, copyright lasted for twenty-eight years and could be renewed for an additional twenty-eight. But by 1998, copyright protection for many works lasted for over a century (the life of the author plus 70 years). This was great news for some copyright owners – for example, the owners of the song, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and the Disney Company – but it has made it difficult for others to use older works.

On the other hand, some modern works such as software or music videos seem likely to be more short-lived, so copyright protection will probably last for more than enough time to protect them for their entire commercial shelf life. Because works have been created under a patchwork of different copyright laws, determining the duration of copyright may require some calculation.

Learn more about Copyright and Trademarks.

Works First Published After 1977

As a result of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, most copyrights for works published after January 1, 1978, last for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, in the following circumstances, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published:

  • The work belongs to the author’s employer under work made for hire principles.
  • The work was commissioned under a work-made-for-hire agreement (and fits within one of the categories of works that qualify for work made for hire treatment).
  • The author publishes and registers the work anonymously or under a pseudonym.

After a copyright expires, the work goes into the public domain, meaning it becomes available for anyone’s use.

Learn the Copyright Essentials.

Works Created Before 1978

  • If the work was published before 1923, it is in the public domain (available for use without permission).
  • If the work was published between 1923 and 1963 and not renewed, it is in the public domain.
  • If the work was published between 1923 and 1963 and it was renewed, the copyright lasts 95 years from the date of first publication.
  • If the work was published between 1964 and 1977, the copyright lasts for 95 years from the date of publication.
  • If the work was created before 1978 and published before December 31, 2002, the copyright lasts at least until December 31, 2047; if created before 1978 and not published before December 31, 2002, the copyright has expired and the work is in the public domain in the United States. In other words, all unpublished works created by authors who died 70 or more years ago are now in the public domain in the United States. This is so whether the author was American or a non-American. Unpublished works made for hire created more than 120 years ago are also in the U.S. public domain.

Learn more about Patent Litigation and Disputes.

Outside the U.S.

Countries that are members of the Berne Convention and countries that have signed the GATT treaty (which requires its members to honor the Berne Convention’s copyright protection standards) extend copyright protection for the life of the author plus a minimum of 50 years. The countries in the European Union also extend copyright protection for the life of the author plus 70 years. 

Learn more about International Patents.

NOLODRUPAL-web1:DRU1.6.12.2.20161011.41205