Tree-view chart on Copyright Law

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. A 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. A 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.

 

Published works:

Year that work was published: Copyright status: Furthermore: Still
valid?:*
1790-1831 Copyrighted for 14 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 14 more years; the work is no longer under copyright NO
1831-June 1895 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 14 more years; the work is no longer under copyright NO
July 1895-June 1909 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 14 more years, then eligible for a third term of 14 years (per 1909 Act); the work is no longer under copyright NO
July 1909-Sep.18,1906 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 28 more years; the work is no longer under copyright NO
Sep.19,1906-1918 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 28 more years followed by extensions of 19 years; the work is no longer under copyright NO
1919-1922 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 28 more years followed by extension of 19 years; the work is no longer under copyright NO
1923-1950 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 28 more years followed by extension of 19 years, followed by a further 20-year extension; go to “Renewals” section to determine if the work is under copyright MAYBE
1950-1963 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. eligible for renewal of 47 more years followed by extension of 20 years; go to “Renewals” section to determine if the work is under copyright MAYBE
1964-1977 Copyrighted for 28 years from filing. automatically renewed for 47 years; go to “Renewals” section inasmuch as renewal-filing status may have ramifications on ownership. YES
1978-1997 copyrighted by individual(s) Copyrighted for life of creator plus 50 years thereafter copyright automatically extended 20 years (Sonny Bono Act, 1998) YES
copyrighted by corporation Copyrighted for 75 years
1998-present copyrighted by individual(s) Copyrighted for life of creator plus 70 years thereafter no extension of the copyright has been made possible YES
copyrighted by corporation Copyrighted for 95 years
Note: extensions referred to above were automatic, requiring no filing by claimant, unlike most renewals.

 

* About the “Still valid?” column:
• A “Yes” answer is contingent upon the validity of the original copyright.  If the work can not be said to have enjoyed copyright protection in the period of original copyright term, any subsequent periods do not reverse this status.
• Where the answer is “Maybe” above, resolution to the question can be made in the section in the tree-view chart on renewals.

 

Unpublished works (including works which were unpublished for long periods of time prior to belated publication):

 

Created in years: Publication first occurred: Author who lived: Copyright began Term: 
1977 or earlierindividual(s)1978-2002 alive for at least some of the time from 1933 to 2002upon tangible formlife of author plus 70 years
death prior to 1978upon tangible formuntil 12-31-2047
2003-presentborn prior to 1978upon tangible form not eligible for protections beyond those for works never published (see next row)
not at all alive for at least some of the time from 1933 to presentupon tangible formlife of author plus 70 years
death prior to 1933upon tangible formuntil 12-31-2002
corporation1978-2002 (work
created before 1927)
not applicableupon tangible formuntil 12-31-2047
1978-2002 (work
created 1927 or later)
not applicableupon tangible formfor 120 years past creation
2003-presentnot applicableupon tangible formfor 120 years past creation
not at allnot applicableupon tangible form120 years after creation
1978-presentindividual(s)irrelevantanytime upon tangible formlife of author plus 70 years
corporationwithin 25 years of creationN/A (corporation) upon tangible form95 years after creation
more than 25 years after creationN/A (corporation)upon tangible form for 120 years past creation

 

 

Vocabulary Used in Copyright Discussion:

Public domain.  A work not protected by copyright, either because of expiration of previous copyright or because the work never was under copyright.  The term indictes that the public as a whole has permission to use (dominion over) the work.

 

 

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.

Type of work Year first eligible for copyright Notice requirement
(1909-1977)
Notice requirement
(1978-1989)
Notes
Questions below to answer
Books, published writings 1790 word, abbrev; year; name word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Periodicals 1790 word, abbrev; year; name word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity Originally considered “published writings”; in 1891, the law changed to specify that each volume of a periodical was to be regarded as one publication. 1, 2, 3
Unpublished manuscripts 1790 none (so long as it remains unpublished) none    
Maps 1790 word, abbrev or symbol of ©; proprietor word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 3 (also 2 if post-1977)
Charts 1790 word, abbrev or symbol of ©; proprietor word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 3 (also 2 if post-1977)
Prints 1802 word, abbrev or symbol of ©; proprietor word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 3 (also 2 if post-1977)
Art works 1870 word, abbrev or symbol of ©; proprietor word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 3, 5 (also 2 if post-1977)
Greeting cards, postcards,
utilitarian items, jewelry
subsumed elsewhere see other relevant category(ies) word, abbrev or symbol of ©; identity
[The year can be omitted only insofar as there is pictorial, graphic or sculptural matter.]
In the 1909 Act, class (k) had been called “Prints and pictorial illustrations”; in the 1947 revision, there was added to this, “including prints or labels used for articles of merchandise”.  
Music 1831 word, abbrev; year; name word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Sound recordings 1972 symbol (pcir.gif (66 bytes)); year; name or abbrev of owner. The phonorecord symbol (pcir.gif (66 bytes)); year; identity Music, dramas, lectures, books, etc. heard on recordings had previously been copyrighted under those other classifications (and continued to be). 1, 2, 3
Plays, Dramatic compositions 1856 word, abbrev; year; name word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Pantomimes,
choreography
unclear see other relevant category(ies) word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity.
[applies if published]
The first explicit mention is in the 1976 Act, wherein these are item (4) of “works of authorship”.  
lectures, sermons, addresses see “unpublished manuscripts”     These were first explicitly named in the 1909 Act, as item (c).  
Photographs 1865 word, abbrev or symbol of ©; proprietor word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Motion pictures 1912 Under the 1912 amendment, a minimum of word, abbrev; name.
Where work also qualifies as a published dramatic work (true of most theatrical releases): word, abbrev; year; name.  
word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity Motion pictures copyrighted prior to 1912 had been registered under the “photographs” classification.  Works from 1912 to 1977 had been divided between “photoplays” (dramas) and “other than photoplays”. 1, 3, 4 (also 2 if post-1977, and also likely 1909-onward)
Computer works 1980 N/A word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Mask works 1984 N/A word, abbrev or symbol of ©; year; identity   1, 2, 3
Web pages, web sites subsumed in other categories N/A N/A;
post-1989:
rules depend upon category and publication status
Copyright law does not address online distribution.  Current law defines publication as transfer of copies or phonorecords.  The Copyright Office gives latitude to claimant as to when and whether publication took place.  These guidelines are subject to change. 1, 2, 3

 

Key to the “Questions below to answer” column (in the above table):

  • 1. Where “1” is indicated, answer the pertinent question below where the tree-view chart reads: “If the category of your work requires the date on the copyright notice ...”
  • 2. Where “2” is indicated, answer below the question: “Does the notice give as the name of the claimant a party who is not the owner of copyright?”
  • 3. Where “3” is indicated, answer below the question: “Was the work registered in the name of the true owner?”
  • 4. Where “4” is indicated, answer below the question: “Is the work a motion picture?”
  • 5. Where “5” is indicated, answer below the question: “Is the work an artwork?”
  •  

    Explanation of terms used in the above chart:

  • “word, abbrev or symbol of ©” indicates that the notice must have one of the following: “Copyright”, “Copr.” or “©”.
  • “proprietor” herein is short for “initials, monogram, mark, or symbol of the copyright proprietor”.  Where something less than the name is used in the notice, that name must appear on some accessible portion of the work (e.g., the base or pedestal).
  • “name” herein means “name of the copyright proprietor”.
  • “identity” means the name or “an abbreviation by which is the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.”
  • “year” means the year of publication.
  •  

     

     

    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:

     

    Use this information to determine the anniversary-year renewal window
    and calendar-year renewal window

    If the work was copyrighted 1923-1950:

    1. Beginning with the filing date of the original copyright, add 27 to the year.  This gives you the start date of the “anniversary-year renewal window.”
    2. Returning to the filing date of the original copyright, add 28 to the year.  This gives you the end date of the “anniversary-year renewal window.”

    If the work was copyrighted 1950-1963 or 1964-1977:

    Beginning with the filing date of the original copyright, add 27 to the year.  The start date will be December 31 of that year.  The end date will be December 31 of the following year.  This gives you the range of the “calendar-year renewal window.”

     

    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:

    Filing date type of windowfirst date of windowlast date of window
    September 12, 1935anniversary yearSeptember 12, 1962September 12, 1963
    September 13, 1935anniversary yearSeptember 13, 1962September 13, 1963
    September 14, 1935anniversary yearSeptember 14, 1962September 14, 1963
    April 6, 1945anniversary yearApril 6, 1972April 6, 1973
    February 2, 1960calendar yearDecember 31, 1987December 31, 1988
    February 4, 1960calendar yearDecember 31, 1987December 31, 1988
    October 3, 1960calendar yearDecember 31, 1987December 31, 1988

     

    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.)

     
    Was a renewal filing found?  If so, use this table:

    year of publication and copyright: renewal filed: The normal consequence: further info:
    Prior to 1790 N/A No Federal law established then.  
    1790-Sep.18,1906

    NOTE: Any U.S. work published or copyrighted prior to 1922 has reached the end of its period of copyright protection, even where all possible renewals were filed.  (See the chart in the “Filed” section to learn when expirations occurred.)
    During the “anniversary year renewal window”  (definition) Additional term, long expired.  (Applicable 1906 works expired 1962.)    
    At some other time The work entered the public domain upon expiration of the term.  Earlier law was unforgiving of failure to file on time.    
    Not at all  
    Sep.19,1906-1922

    NOTE: Any U.S. work published or copyrighted prior to 1922 has reached the end of its period of copyright protection, even where all possible renewals were filed.  (See the chart in the “Filed” section to learn when expirations occurred.)

    During the “anniversary year renewal window”  (definition) Copyright extended; with automatic extensions, protection lasted until the December 31 of the year in which occurs the 75th anniversary of the original filing.  
    At some other time The work entered the public domain upon the 28th anniversary of the original filing.   about automatic extensions
    Not at all  
    1923-1949 During the “anniversary year renewal window”  (definition) Copyright extended; with automatic extensions, protection will last until the December 31 of the year in which occurs the 95th anniversary of the original filing.   continue with the tree-view chart; there may be an invalidating aspect of the renewal
    At some other time Although a filing may have entered the Copyright Office records, this filing does not point to a valid renewal.    
    Not at all The work entered the public domain upon the 28th anniversary of the original filing.    
    1950 During the “anniversary year renewal window”  (definition) The renewal is is valid, regardless of date.  As this date was during 1978, terminations of grants is governed by the 1976 Act.   continue in this section; there may be an invalidating aspect of the renewal
    During the “calendar year renewal window”  (definition) The renewal is valid.  Provisions for termination of grants vary depending on whether renewal occurred in 1977 or 1978.   continue in this section; there may be an invalidating aspect of the renewal
    At some other time Invalid, unless Jan. 2, 1979.    
    Not at all The work entered the public domain upon the December 31st following the 28th anniversary of the original filing.    
    1951-1963 During the “calendar year renewal window”  (definition) Copyright extended; with automatic extensions, protection will last until the December 31 of the year in which occurs the 95th anniversary of the original filing.   continue in this section; there may be an invalidating aspect of the renewal
    During the “anniversary year renewal window” (excluding dates also in “calendar year”)  (definitions) Invalid.  In that the 1976 Act extended the first term to the December 31 of the 28th calendar year, any date up to but not including the December 31 of the 27th calendar year is too early to qualify as the last year of the first term.  (Read the Citations and Case Summaries page on term period calculation.) see immediately above
    At some other time Invalid.  (See some of the next questions.)  
    Not at all The work entered the public domain upon the December 31st following the 28th anniversary of the original filing.    
    1964-1977 During the “calendar year renewal window”  (definition) Copyright extended by 1993 Act; filing for renewal provides advantages over not filing, although in either case, after adding the automatic extensions, copyright protection will last until the December 31 of the year in which occurs the 95th anniversary of the original filing.   continue in this section; other aspect of the renewal process may affect result
    During the “anniversary year renewal window” (excluding dates also in “calendar year”)  (definitions) A filing prior to the December 31 of the 27th calendar year was too early to qualify.   Applicants who did not re-file during the 28th calendar year lost advantages insofar as concerns the right to terminate grants. However, copyright itself in such cases was extended automatically and protection will extend until the December 31 of the 95th calendar year. see immediately above
    At some other time Irrelevant.  Copyright was automatically extended in 1993 although works not renewed by claimant (through filed application) in a timely manner lost the advantages of grant revocations.  
    Not at all Copyright extended automatically.  Copyright will apply for as long as it would have had renewal been filed (see three frames above).  Copyright holder loses advantages of grant revocations. continue in this section; other aspect of the renewal process may affect result
    1978-present Not applicable; any copyright filed 1978 or later is still in effect; work is not eligible for renewal thereafter. Not applicable.  Works copyrighted 1978 and later are accorded a single long term rather than consecutive shorter terms.   Not applicable

    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.

     

     

     

     

    Vocabulary

    For this section, you should be conversant with particular terms that will be used repeatedly:

    • A compilation is a work that joins together works that were published previously.  Whether offering the earlier works in their entirety or in excerpt(s), the collection itself reflects a new selection which is accorded eligibility for a copyright of its own.
    • An adaptation is an altered version of an earlier work which nonetheless forms the basis of the new.  This may take the form of new lyrics to an old melody, translation from one language to another, or preparing a theatrical or movie script from a story originally written to be read in prose form.
    • An underlying work is the earlier work which forms the basis of the version or collection which came afterward.
    • New work is material in the compilation or adaptation (or in any other form of work which incorporates earlier work) which has not previously been published.

     

    Compare the degree of differences between versions of the work, then find the category on this chart that best represents that degree:

    degree example legal consequence
    no difference work incorporated in its entirety and without alterations into a collection The copyright on the earlier work protects the work irrespective of the later work.
    minor articles reprinted in an anthology, subjected to such minor changes in syntax or minimal editing of content Minor changes do not require new copyright.
    noticeable, marked, intermediate a motion picture re-edited, with new visual material filmed for the new version. Embellishment makes the new work eligible for enforcement of copyright after expiration of the underlying work.
    extensive a new work so different that the old one might not be recognized within it Maintaining both copyrights and declaring the lineage become crucial, otherwise infringers can argue that they copied one work not knowing that some material had an enforceable copyright.

    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.

     

    Underlying work is
    under copyright
    Underlying work is
    not under copyright
    Later work is
    under copyright
    With both copyrights valid, copying requires permission. Only material unique to the later work is protected by copyright; the earlier work can be copied in full or in part without permissions.
    Later work is
    not under copyright
    Only material unique to the later work can be copied without permission. Both works can be copied in full or in part without permissions.

    Specific examples of the legal status where there has been an underlying-work relationship are illustrated on another page of this web site

     

     

     

     

     

    ——   Illustrations Pages   ——

    This web site has illustrations pages to provide examples and images about the legal concepts revealed through the answers on this page.  Click a link below to go to that page.
     

    • Publication in Copyright
    • Copyright Notice
    • Absence of Notice
    • Registration
    • Copyright Deposit
    • Copyright Renewal
    • Foreign Copyright
    • Copyright Transfers
    • Derivative Versions
    • Fair Use
    • Similarity in Copyright
    • Music Licensing and
        Sound Recording Copyrights

    • Copying Copyrighted Works at Home
    • Researching Copyright Status
    • About this Site

    Among the images in the pages linked directly above:
    • defective copyright notices • copyright registration forms • registration and renewal listings • a search report prepared by the Copyright Office • an affidavit filed with the Copyright Office attesting to the true identity of an author using a pseudonym • deposit return requests • bar graphics comparing copyright terms of different adaptations of the same story • photographs which entered the public domain when the magazines which published them were not renewed

     

    Some side-by-side images in the pages linked directly above show visitors:
    • change in copyright-notice wording after a rights transfer • comparison of a piano roll and a phonograph record to probe into why only one of these mediums is considered visually perceptible • comparisons of the network and syndication versions of a television show to demonstrate how an unpublished version can differ from the published version later issued

     

    Other material provided on the linked pages directly above include:
    • conversion table for Roman numberals • sound clip allowing visitors to decide if an out-of-copyright 1893 song has the same tune as the well-known standard “Happy Birthday”

     

     

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