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Copyright: Does it have a copyright?

A guide to understanding copyright laws and applications in the classroom and research.

Copyright Terms

Whether or not an item has an active copyright depends on when the work was published.  See below for duration of copyrights based on the year of publication.

Search Databases for current and lapsed copyrights.

See special exceptions to copyright protections. 

Works that do not have copyright or whose copyright has lapsed are said to be in the Public Domain.

Databases

U.S. Copyright Database - contains all currently active copyrights.

Stanford University Copyright Renewal Database - contains information about copyrights issued from 1950 to 1963.

Duration of Copyright

  • Works produced from 1978 to present

For any work produced after Dec. 31, 1977 the length of the copyright is the creator's life plus 70 years.

For works by multiple authors the duration of the copyright is equal to the life of the last surviving creator plus 70 years.

Copyright terms always end on December 31.   So if a creator passed away on March 10, 2000, the copyright will expire on January 1, 2071 and not on March 11, 2070.

  • Works produced from 1964 to 1977

The duration of copyright is 95 years.

  • Works produced from 1950 to 1963

 Duration of copyright is 28 years plus 67 years if the copyright was renewed for a maximum of 95 years.  Copyright for works published in this period required renewal.  If the copyright of works published in these years was not renewed then it is in public domain and can be used without restriction.

Stanford University's Copyright Renewal Database   (Links to an external site.)has records of all works whose copyright was renewed

  • Works produced from 1924* to 1949

The duration of copyright of works produced from 1924 to 1949 is 95 years and did not require registration

*As of 2020.  Under previous legislation all works published before 1923 were in the public domain.  This year was unchaining and fixed by statute, but the most recent legislation specifies that works published 95 years before January 1 of the current year are in the public domain, so that the public domain cut-off date will progress one year every year.

Current Year         Term of Copyright                           Public Domain ends on the date below:
         2019                        95                                                              Dec. 31, 1923
         2020                        95                                                              Dec. 31, 1924
         2021                        95                                                              Dec. 31, 1925

  • Works copyrighted before 1925 (as of 2020)

In Public Domain

Special Cases

Architecture

Two types of copyright protection exist for architectural works:

  • For architectural works designed from December 1990 to present,
  • For the design of a building created before December 1990 and built prior to January 1, 2003.

     Architectural works falling into one of these categories are protected by copyright and their architects enjoy the same term specified in the previous page, i.e. the life of the architect plus 70 years.

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