By clicking on the + and - boxes to open and close “branches” of the information “tree” embedded into this page, visitors can learn whether a particular work is covered by copyright in the United States. Although focused on American law, the American copyright status of a foreign work can also be determined from the information in the tree-view chart. Persons outside the United States wanting to know whether an American work is protected by copyright in their countries can use the information herein for that purpose, provided that such citizens know the manner and extent to which their countries respect American copyrights. (Some countries provide American works with the same duration of protection as the United States provides its own works. Other countries provide a different duration. Citizen of countries other than the United States must determine this information from a source other than the CopyrightData.com web site, because that information is not covered here. The preferred sources for such information are the web pages of a person’s own country covering such law.)
The most important determinant of whether a work enjoys United States copyright protection is the year that the work was created or first made public. (These dates may be different — in some cases years apart — and users of this tree-view chart are urged to determine which is most applicable to determining the copyright status of the work.) Likewise, for a work old enough that copyright renewal is required for copyright to achieve the maximum allowable number of years of coverage, the year that this requirement was met (or was not met) is the most vital determinant of whether copyright endures. However, validity of copyright also depends on (or, in some cases, in the past depended on) proper copyright notice, paperwork registration rules, deposit requirements, and a few other matters. This chart has users answer some of these questions before addressing the protection start date where it is efficient to do so. Visitors to this site who expected to the first questions to answer would be questions based on the renewal year may find that some of the unexpected prelimary questions provide leads useful in discounting assumptions about whether the validity of a copyright.
Some visitors to this site already understand the rules concerning publication status, notice requirements, and registration, and may want to go directly on the tables and charts for checking the year of the work against its renewal requirements. Such visitors can do so now by clicking here to go to the tables on renewal particulars.
Links for documentation on the tree-view chart come in two primary forms:
1. links: These open a dedicated page of citations. In effect, this is a page of footnotes. The page will be positioned so that the citation for the specific item next to the link will be at the top of the page when you have the citation page open. Generally, you will see citations to specific passages or statutes within the Copyright Act(s). (“Copyright Acts” can be plural because this web site references the 1909, 1947 and 1976 Copyright Acts, as amended to the present. Please read the notes at the bottom of the citation page for information helpful in selecting the relevant version of the Copyright Act for the work(s) you are researching.) In addition to the citation to statute(s), or in some cases instead of, you will see additional comments. Occasionally, there will be references to U.S. Government regulations or written policies other than the Copyright Acts passed by Congress.
2. links: These open another page on this web site. The pages have far more information than just a citation and brief comments. Most pages have citations for the relevant statutes and provide these for all three principle versions of Copyright Act under which a work may presently be covered by American law. Where a particular subject was not covered by all three versions, a note will state this. Documentation pages provide yet more: summaries of court decisions in the relevant area; quotations from statutes; quotations from other U.S. Government materials (Code of Federal Regulations, the Copyright Office’s internal Compendium of Copyright Office Practices, Copyright Office circulars intended for laymen); charts; pictorial illustrations. Where a link takes you to a summary of a court decision on a particular case, you should assume that the issue was resolved by this court decision and not by pre-existing law. However, you should scroll toward the top of the page to see which statutes are referenced, as the cited statutes will at the least provide some context for the court decision. If you are new to court decisions, read the “green” section at the bottom of pages which contain summaries of court decisions.
This web page is set to open links in another tab or browser window. You will not lose your place on this page by clicking a link — unless you click a link that repositions this page. Such links specifically are worded to
indicate that the visitor will be taken to a different location on this page.)
Use the following two charts to determine if the work could be eligible for copyright protection at the present time.
* About the “Still valid?” column:
Unpublished works (including works which were unpublished for long periods of time prior to belated publication):
Use the table below to determine whether the medium which your work is in was eligible for copyright at the time of its creation or publication, then determine where on this chart to continue for further information.
Key to the “Questions below to answer” column (in the above table):
This section allows users to learn whether periods of copyright protection secured through initial filing, were supplemented by additional time. (The user must already have answered the relevant questions in the “Registration” section.). The process by which additional time is added to a copyright is called “renewal.”
For a renewal of copyright to be valid, it must be filed during a specific time window. To determine whether a renewal was filed not earlier and not later than it needed to be, use this information:
Thus: for a work copyrighted March 17, 1932, the “anniversary-year renewal window” is March 17, 1959, to March 17, 1960. For each date after that (until the end of 1949), the first date of the renewal window is one day later and the last date of the renewal window is one day later. However, for a work copyrighted July 13, 1951, the “calendar-year renewal window” is applicable (rather than the “anniversary-year renewal window”), so the renewal window is December 31, 1978, to December 31, 1979. (From 1951 onward, the only renewal window available was the one wherein all works copyrighted in a particular year come up for renewal during the same December 31 to December 31 year that begins on the December 31 following (or on) the 27th anniversary of the original filing date. Only with copyrights filed 1949 and earlier does each filing date have a unique range of dates for renewals.)
Examples of renewal windows:
You will observe that in the above chart, the three different dates in 1960 all have the same time window for renewals, but that the three different dates in 1935 each have a different renewal window.
(Web site creator’s note: “anniversary-year renewal window” and “calendar-year renewal window” are terms that I invented to designate these concepts. The terms are not used in copyright law.)
1950 works could be renewed in both the “anniversary year window” and the “calendar year window.” A citations page documents this special situation concerning works that were eligible for renewal in both 1977 and 1978.
Compare the degree of differences between versions of the work, then find the category on this chart that best represents that degree:
If a copyright holder is or may be a foreign entity, be sure to read the “Foreign” section of this work. Although a work may seem to be an American work that has fallen into the public domain, when an alternate version is marketed as though the original and copyright can be claimed by a foreign entity, that entity may be able to enforce copyright on the versions most frequently offered.
The next table treats the relationships between an earlier work and a later work utilizing some of the same material.
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