While a copyright grants you exclusive rights and near total control over your work, it will not last forever. In the United States, the situation for any work created on or after January 1, 1978 is simple. The copyright for these works lasts for the lifetime of the author and for 70 years after the author’s death. In the case of a work for hire, or a work that is written by an author who remains anonymous or who uses a pseudonym, the copyright lasts for 120 years after the creation of the work or 95 years after the work is published, whichever is shorter. This rule also applies to works that are published or registered after 1978, regardless of their creation date.

Get Started Ask a Lawyer You'll get an answer in one day.

Copyright Status of Older Works

How long does a copyright last for works published or registered before 1978? This is where copyright law gets tricky. Before 1978, works had to be published or registered to be eligible for copyright protection, and then renewed in the 28th year after publication for another 28 years. Without a renewal, the work would enter the public domain. This requirement was abolished in 1992 by the Copyright Renewal Act, which made the renewal of copyrights automatic. In general, the duration of the copyright for works published between 1964 and 1977 is 95 years. The same is true of works published between 1923 and 1963, if their copyright was renewed. Otherwise, the 28 year copyright duration applies. Note that this rule does not apply to sound recordings, which are generally considered to be protected by federal copyright until the year 2067.

Entering the Public Domain

When a copyright lapses, the work enters the public domain. In the United States, the public domain includes all works published before 1923 and all works published between 1923 and 1964 that were not renewed in the 28th year. Regardless, it is important to check the copyright status of any work before reprinting all or part of it, to avoid risking the possibility of copyright infringement.

Get Started Ask a Lawyer You'll get an answer in one day.

Get Started Ask a lawyer You'll get an answer in one day.