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General Information About U.S. Copyright Law
On October 28, 1998, Copyright Law was revised to reflect the definition of the copyright term for individuals as "the life of the author plus 70 years." Prior to October 28, 1998, the copyright term was 50 years. Note that the redefinition pertains only to works created after January 1, 1978.
This provision in the copyright law allows for reproduction of material under certain guidelines without requesting specific permission to do so. Fair Use generally suggests those circumstances in which it is permissible to use portions of another's copyrighted work -- in teaching, scholarship, research, commentary and news reporting. It is important to note that the determination of fair use is subjective and is a judgement of the copyright holder. One should therefore exercise caution when contemplating use of another's work under these guidelines.
Four Factors in Fair Use
The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
The nature of the copyrighted work;
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole;
The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
U.S. Copyright Protection for Different Periods
Please reference the US Copyright Office web site for more details.
Circular 15A (Duration of Copyright) and Circular15t (Extension of Copyright Terms)
Works Published before January 1, 1923. Public Domain
Works Published between January 1, 1923 and December 31, 1963. Works published with notice of copyright or registered in unpublished form prior to January 1, 1964, had to be renewed during the 28th year of their first term of copyright to maintain protection for a full 95 year term (28 year original term and 67 year renewal term for a total term of 95 years). If not renewed, they are in the public domain.
Works Published between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977. Copyright automatically renewed (28 year original term and 67 year renewal term for a total term of 95 years).
Works created on and after January 1, 1978. In copyright (author's lifetime plus 70 years. If prepared by two or more authors the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving 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 the first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Works in existence but not published or copyrighted on January 1, 1978. Automatically given copyright protection (author's lifetime plus 70 years or at least until Dec. 31, 2047, whichever is longer). 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 the first publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. All works in this category are guaranteed at least 25 years of statutory protection. In no case will copyright in a work of this sort expire before December 21, 2002, and if the work is published before that date the term will extend another 45 years through the end of 2047.
In the case of photographs, it is sometimes difficult to determine who owns the copyright and there may be little or no information about the owner on individual copies. Ownership of a "copy" of a photograph - the tangible embodiment of the "work" - is distinct from the "work" itself - the intangible intellectual property. The owner of the "work" is generally the photographer or, in certain situations, the employer of the photographer. Even if a person hires a photographer to take pictures of a wedding, for example, the photographer will own the copyright in the photographs unless the copyright in the photographs is transferred, in writing and signed by the copyright owner, to another person. The subject of the photograph generally has nothing to do with the ownership of the copyright in the photograph. If the photographer is no longer living, the rights in the photograph are determined by the photographer's will or passed as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate successions.
Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends on the national laws of that country. The Berne Convention provides that countries which signed the treaty grant minimum protection--a copyright duration of at least the author's life plus 50 years; moral rights; provision allowing for fair use of copyrighted works. A new section was added to the Copyright Law as part of the U.S.adherence to NAFTA and GATT which grants or restores U.S. copyright to large classes of foreign works.