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MMD > Archives > January 1997 > 1997.01.14 > 02Prev  Next


The New US Copyright Law
By Matthew Caulfield

Digest 97.01.13 contained a reply from Ed Berlin to S. K. Goodman that thoroughly confused me. It dealt with copyright and public domain and mentioned 1906 as cutoff date.

Up until the 1970's, when Congress began to consider overhaul of copyright law, the United States law had the same basic provisions since 1891: statutory copyright was granted for a fixed initial term of 28 years from date of publication, renewable in the 28th year for one additional 28 year term, after which the work entered the public domain. An unpublished work was covered by common law, but once published, the work fell under the statutory provisions.

In the 1970's Congress -- knowing that it intended to extend the term of copyright to something closer to the provisions in effect in most other countries, and not wanting to deprive copyright holders whose copyright terms were about to expire and would expire while the new law was being drafted -- passed a series of interim measures temporarily extending then-valid copyrights for more than the maximum 56 years. That muddied the waters, so that one could no longer assume that once 56 years had elapsed from publication date, a work was public domain.

The new copyright law was finally enacted in 1976, with an effective date of January 1, 1978 -- although some of its provisions went into effect earlier than that. It is the law now in effect. FOR THE FIRST TIME the 75-year concept was introduced, replacing the previous 28/28-year concept. Copyright for new works is for life-of-author-plus-50-years, with other provisions for anonymous and corporate works, where there is no determinable life of the author. Previously-existing works covered at the time of enactment of the new law were given the fixed 75-year term S. K. Goodman mentions.

I hope this eliminates the confusion.

Matthew Caulfield


(Message sent Tue 14 Jan 1997, 15:12:10 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Copyright, Law, New, US

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