RESEARCHER’S CORNER

Copyright

(Quilt History Research)

 

photo of Eagle quilt
Four Corner or Mirror Eagle Quilt
Circa 1870 – 1900

 

A Brief Overview of Copyright Law in the United States of America

by

Kim Force

Attorney-at-Law

(November 20, 2008)

 

This article is not intended to be legal advice or to create an attorney-client relationship.  It was prepared as a general informational tool only, compiled from various sources of law.  Please contact Kim Force, Force Law Office, 9687 U Hwy, Prairie Home, MO 65068, Email:  kforce@iland.net , if you would like to reproduce this article.

 

A.   Copyright Law - U.S. Code Title 17

Copyright protects original “works of authorship” fixed in any tangible medium of expression. “Works of authorship” include: literary works, musical works, dramatic works, pantomimes, choreographic works, pictorial works, graphic works, sculptural works, motion pictures, audiovisual works, sound recordings, and architectural works.  Copyright protection does not cover any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in a work.

 

Before using or copying any work, you should make a reasonable investigation to determine the Copyright status of the work.  Unauthorized copying or use of a copyrighted work is a violation of law and can subject the user to substantial fines and penalties, so it is important to ensure that a work is not covered by copyright, or if it is, to obtain permission to copy or use the work. 

 

B.    The Copyright Notice        

The first clue as to the copyright status of a work is the Copyright notice.  The notice may be in one of various formats, such as:  “Copyright,” “Copr.,” “Copyr.,” or “©.”  The notice may or may not also include the author’s name, the year of creation or publication, and the statement “All Rights Reserved.”

The copyright notice may appear anywhere in or on the work, such as on the front or back of a photograph or piece of art, or on the cover or inside a book or magazine.  The notice can be typewritten, printed, stamped, or handwritten.

C.    Determining the Copyright Status of a Work

Copyright Law underwent many changes throughout the 20th century.  As a result, there are several varying requirements for protection depending on when a work was created and/or published.  

The chart below details various eras of Copyright protection, and each era is examined more fully below the chart.  As a general rule, works created before 1923 can be freely used because they have entered the public domain.  All works created on or after January 1, 1978 are currently protected by Copyright and should not be used without written permission from the Copyright holder.  There are different and more complex rules for works created &/or published 1923-1963 and 1964-1977. 

 

 

Type of Work

Date of Protection

 

Length of Term

 

CAN IT BE USED?

 

PUBLISHED before 1923

N/A

Now in the public domain

Can be freely used and copied.

 

 PUBLISHED 1923 to 1963

When published

with  a

notice*

28-year first term

Renewal term of 67 years, but only if properly renewed; if not, now in public domain

(1) Published without © notice, can be freely used and copied. 

(2) Published with © notice, if not renewed, can be freely used and copied. 

(3) Published with © notice and renewed, protected at least until 2018.  Must have written permission to use or copy.

 

 PUBLISHED 1964 to 1977

When published

with  a

notice*

28-year first term

Renewal term (automatic) of

67 years. 

(1) Published without © notice, can be freely used. 

(2) Published with © notice, protected until at least 2018.  Must have written permission to use or copy.

 

CREATED before 01/01/1978 but NOT PUBLISHED

 

01/01/1978

Greater of:  Life of author**

+ 70 years,

or at least until 12/31/2002.

Must have written permission to use or copy.

 

CREATED before 01/01/1978, AND PUBLISHED before 12/31/2002

 

01/01/1978

Greater of:  Life of author**

+ 70 years,

or at least until 12/31/2047.

Must have written permission to use or copy.

 

 

 CREATED on or after 01/01/1978

When fixed

in a tangible

form

Basic: Life of

author

+ 70 years

Alternative:  (for anonymous/ pseudonymous works, works made for hire,

or corporate authorship): shorter

of:  publication + 95 years, or creation

+ 120 years

 

Must have written permission to use or copy.

 

 

 

* Works published without notice during this period went into the public domain upon publication.

** Term for joint works is measured by the longest-lived author.

1.     Works Published Before 1923:  These works are in the public domain and can be freely copied and used by anyone. 

2.     Works Published 1923 to 1963

 a.     Without Copyright Notice:  These works were never protected by Copyright and thus, are in the public domain.  They can be freely copied or used by anyone. 

 b.     With Copyright Notice:  These works were protected for an initial term of 28 years from the date of publication, and were eligible for a renewal term of 67 years (total 95 years from date of publication).  For protection to continue, the Copyright must have been formally renewed with the Copyright Office; if not formally renewed, these works are now in the public domain and can be freely copied or used.  Please note, these renewals are not available via the online Copyright Office records database.  You must contact the Copyright Office and have them conduct the search for you, or go to the Library of Congress to perform the search yourself.

3.    Works Published 1964 to 1977:

 a.     Without Copyright Notice:  These works were never protected by Copyright and thus, are in the public domain.  They can be freely copied or used by anyone.

 b.     With Copyright Notice:  These works were protected for an initial term of 28 years from publication, and were automatically renewed for an additional term of 67 years, for a total of 95 years from the date of publication.  Renewal registration with the Copyright Office is NOT required for the protection to continue.  Written permission is required to use or copy these works.

4.      Works Created Before January 1, 1978 but NOT Published:  The term of Copyright protection for these works began on January 1, 1978 and continues for a period of 70 years after the author’s death, or at least until December 31,2002, whichever is greater.  If there were more than one author, the 70-year period is calculated from the date of the last author’s death.  You should obtain written permission to use or copy works falling into this category.

5.      Works Created Before January 1, 1978 and Published Between That Date and December 31, 2002:  The term of Copyright protection for these works began on January 1, 1978 and continues for a period of 70 years after the author’s death, or at least until December 31, 2047, whichever is greater.  If there were more than one author, the 70-year period is calculated from the date of the last author’s death.  You must obtain written permission to use or copy works falling into this category.

6.      Works Created On or After January 1, 1978:  Copyright protection was automatic at the time the work was fixed in a tangible form (for example, when a picture was taken, a video was recorded, a book was written, etc.)  A Copyright notice is not required, nor is registration with the Copyright Office.  You must obtain written permission to use or copy works falling into this category.

 The applicable terms of protection for works created on or after January 1, 1978 are:

             

             i.      Basic Term:  The applicable term of protection is the life of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death.  If there were more than one author, the 70-year period is calculated from the date of the last author’s death.

             ii.     Alternative Term:  For anonymous works (i.e., the author is unknown), pseudonymous works (i.e., the author wrote under a fictitious or “pen” name), works of corporate authorship, and works made for hire (i.e., created by an individual on behalf of a business or other person), the term of Copyright protection is the shorter of:

     - 95 years from the date of publication, or

     - 120 years from the date of creation

For more information, go to www.copyright.gov, or contact the Copyright Office at (202) 707-3000.  The Copyright Office does not have any pre-1978 records online, but it is possible for them to perform a search for you of certain items.  You may also visit the Library of Congress and conduct a search yourself.  You may also wish to contact a copyright attorney for legal advice. 

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