Copyright Renewal: The Basics

Before 1976, there were two terms of a protection for a copyright. The holder of a copyright had to renew the copyright for a second term to extend the protection to its full length. Now, the law only requires that the holder of a copyright register the copyright with the United States Copyright Office once. The holder of the copyright receives the protection of the copyright for its full length. As a general rule, the second term of copyright protection no longer exists.

Works that are copyrighted today will last for the life of the creator and extend beyond 70 years after the date of the creator’s passing. Works of corporate authorship are protected for 120 years after the creation of the work or 95 years after the publication of the work, whichever came first. You can talk to a copyright law attorney to make sure you have full protection for your work. They will let you know how the rules apply to you. Copyright laws can be found in Chapter 17 of the United States Code.

There are special rules for works that were originally copyrighted between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977. If the holder of the copyright did not renew the copyright for these works for a second term before January 1, 1978, the holder has not legally maintained the right to use derivative works. They have also lost the right to claim statutory damages for a violation of copyright. A copyright law attorney can help you renew the copyright protection for works originally copyrighted in this decade. The works themselves are already protected for 95 years after the date of their publication.

The three important steps of renewing a copyright are identifying the person or corporation to which the copyright has been granted, explaining any transfer in ownership, and filing the necessary paperwork. Only the author, the surviving spouse or children of the author, the author’s executors, and the author’s next of kin may renew the copyright.

Only specific types of work may be renewed. These types of work include posthumous work; composite work, such as a periodical; work copyrighted by a corporate body other than as an assignee or licensee of the author; and work copyrighted by an employer for whom the work was completed under a made-for-hire agreement.

Consider reviewing publications by the United States Copyright Office to learn more about your rights.

Relevant Publications

Renewal of Copyright, by the United States Copyright Office

Extension of Copyright Terms, by the United States Copyright Office