Copyright: Potential Extended Copyright Term for Certain Unpublished Works

May 19, 2002 Advisory

The term of U.S. copyright protection for any given work is sometimes difficult to determine due to the many changes in our copyright law over the past twenty-five years. Generally, for a work that was created but neither "published" nor the copyright registered before January 1, 1978, the copyright endures either for the life of its author plus 70 years, or 120 years from its creation (if it is a work made for hire) - unless the copyright would have expired before 2002, in which case the copyright endures until December 31, 2002. If, however, the work is published on or before December 31, 2002, the term of copyright is extended to December 31, 2047. So, if the author of an unpublished work died in 1932 or earlier, or if an unpublished work made for hire was created before 1883, the affected copyright owner should consider publishing the work before the statutory deadline to obtain the benefit of this extended protection.

"Published" is a term of art in copyright law: "publication" occurs when, with the consent of the copyright owner, the original or tangible copies of a work are sold, leased, loaned, given away, or otherwise made available to the general public. (Submitting a manuscript written before 1978 to a publisher for consideration would not qualify as "publication.") The ease of disseminating information via the Internet has opened up new and efficient opportunities for publication. Distribution on the Internet (as well as any conventional means of publication) on or before December 31, 2002, of any such previously unpublished, unregistered pre-1978 work will extend copyright protection until December 31, 2047.

For more information please contact:
Mary Norris