« The Internet Flexes Its Muscle: Blackout Derails SOPA and PIPA | Main | Photo of the Week »

Copyright Corner: Determining Copyright Duration

The duration of copyright, although quite a long time, is not perpetual. In the United States copyright extends for the lifetime of the author plus seventy years. This makes the determination of whether a work is still protected by copyright possibly a very complicated process. Once copyright has expired, the work reverts to the public domain, where it may be copied and distributed freely without regard for the original creator.

There are a few tools to help determine copyright duration that are very easy to find on the web:

Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States
This chart, developed by Peter Hirtle at Cornell University, provides a way to assess an individual item using its publication status, date of publication and format. The chart helps determine what aspect of the copyright law applies and if the work is still protected by copyright.

How To Investigate Copyright Status
This pamphlet, developed by the Library of Congress Copyright Office, provides advice on searching for the status of an individual item. The Copyright Office will also search for individual items for a fee.

Search Copyright Records
This page provides a search of copyright registration records from 1978 to the current time. It also provides information to help search copyright registration records prior to 1978.

The Watch File and FOB
The Watch File database is operated jointly by the Harry Ransom Center and Reading University. It helps locate the copyright holders and managers for many literary and creative works, and may help in locating information about whether a work is still protected by copyright. The connected FOB site helps provide information regarding firms out of business, which may be among the “vanished��? copyright holders.

If you have any questions about copyright issues, please contact Lorre Smith: lsmith@albany.edu ; 437-3946. Although based at the Science Library, Lorre is here at Dewey several days each week.