| BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. COPYRIGHT
General Information about
Copyright Clearance, U.S. Copyright Law, and the U.S. Copyright
In identifying and researching copyright holders, it is
helpful to recall basic issues about copyright law, government
authorities overseeing copyright, and administrative matters
pertinent to specific copyright cases.
Copyright protection, according to U.S. law, is provided
to the authors of original works including literature, drama,
music, art, and other kinds of intellectual property. Copyright
protection is available to published and unpublished works,
and extends to reproduction and public display of the works.
Copyright protection exists from the time that the work
is created in a fixed form. Once this occurs, copyright
of a work immediately becomes the property of the author.
Only the author, or an entity deriving rights through the
author (such as an employer), can claim copyright.
The Copyright Act of 1976
The primary legislation
governing copyright issues as defined by U.S. law is the
Copyright Act of 1976. Before the Copyright Act of
1976, federal copyright was generally secured by the act
of publication with notice of copyright. Since 1976, many
amendments have been attached to the Copyright Act, including
the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.
Only a brief and limited summary of the Copyright Act of
1976 is provided here. However, it is helpful to become
familiar with some of the basic decisions outlined in this
legislation in working with copyrighted material.
The following information is found on the U.S.
Copyright Office website:
Works Originally Created and Published or Registered before
January 1, 1978
- The Copyright Act of 1976 mandates that work that is
created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on
or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from
the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term
enduring for the author's life plus an additional 70 years
after the author's death.
- For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous
works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright
Office records), the duration of copyright will be 95
years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever
- Works created before January 1, 1978 but not published
or registered by that date, have been automatically brought
under the statute and are now given federal copyright
Under the law in effect before 1978,
copyright was secured either on the date a work was published
with a copyright notice or on the date of registration if
the work was registered in unpublished form. In either case,
the copyright endured for a first term of twenty-eight years from
the date it was secured. During the last (twenty-eighth) year of
the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal.
The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from
twenty-eight to forty-seven years for copyrights that were subsisting on January
1, 1978, or for pre-1978 copyrights restored under the Uruguay
Round Agreements Act (URAA), making these works eligible
for a total term of protection of seventy-five years. Public
Law 105-298, also known as the “Sonny Bono Copyright
Term Extension Act of 1998”, was enacted on October
27, 1998, and further extends the renewal term of copyrights
still subsisting on that date by an additional twenty years,
providing for a renewal term of sixty-seven years and a total term
of protection of ninety-five years.
Public Law 102-307, enacted on June 26, 1992, amended the
1976 Copyright Act to provide for automatic renewal of the
term of copyrights secured between January 1, 1964, and
December 31, 1977.
Public Law 102-307 makes renewal registration optional.
Therefore filing for renewal registration is no longer required
in order to extend the original twenty-eight year copyright term to
the full ninety-five years. However, some benefits result from making
a renewal registration during the twenty-eighth year of the original
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA) enacted
two World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaties,
the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and
Phonograms Treaty, and contained additional provisions that
addressed other copyright-related issues.
A few of the DMCA's highlights include:
- The DMCA makes it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy
measures built into commercial software, and it outlaws
the manufacture, sale, or distribution of code-cracking
devices used to copy software illegally.
- It does, however, allow the cracking of copyright-protection
devices in certain cases (encryption research, product
interoperability tests, and security testing).
- It limits online service providers from copyright-infringement
liability for simply transmitting information over the
Internet, but expects service providers to remove material
from users' websites that appear to infringe copyrights.
- It limits liability of nonprofit institutions of higher
education, when they serve as online service providers,
and in certain situations, for copyright infringement
by faculty or students.
- Section 404 of the DMCA provides exemptions from anti-circumvention
provisions for nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational
institutions under certain circumstances, updating Section
108 of the Copyright Act of 1976 to accommodate digital
technologies and evolving preservation practices. It allows
three digital copies of a work to be made, provided that
digital copies are not made available to the public outside
of the library premises. It also permits a library or
archive to copy a work into a new format if the original
format becomes obsolete.
The Library of Congress and The Section 108 Study Group
The Library of Congress has convened the Section 108 Study
Group (http://www.loc.gov/section108/index.html), a group
of copyright experts whose purpose is to investigate how
Section 108 of the Copyright Act (which allows libraries
and archives to make certain uses of copyrighted materials)
may need to be revised to balance the needs of libraries
and archives with the rights of creators and copyright holders
in the age of digital media. The group will present its
findings and recommendations to the Librarian of Congress
Further Online Information
The U.S. Copyright Office has an extensive website (http://www.copyright.gov/)
with resources related to copyright law. A resource page
has a list of helpful links to relevant government agencies,
international organizations, and organizations that provide
copyright clearance functions and services.
The Library of Congress's Section 108 Study Group has
a website with information about the group's activities