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These questions are answered by the table on the tree-view chart page. Renewal windows are strictly narrow, and in 1978 there was a change in the determinant of when that window opens and closes. As a result, works registered for which the first term began prior to 1950 come up for renewal on the 27th anniversary of Day 0 in the copyright term, whereas works which began the first term after 1950 come up at the end of the calendar year that contains the 27th anniversary.
The illustrations below demonstrate how copyright registration and renewal records can be researched using the Copyright Office publications Catalog of Copyright Entries.
|The first registration for the song “The Last Time I Saw Paris” occurred
with this one, filed for when it was still an unpublished work. Several additional
registrations followed in the coming seven months. (Illustration: Part III,
“Musical Compositions,” Catalogue, vol. 35, no. 8, August 1940, pg.
The first registration for the published version of the song (not shown here) occurred September 16, 1940, and was reported in Part III, vol. 35, no 10, October 1940, pg. 1414.
|(above and below:) These two illustrations reproduce six renewals filed in late 1967 and early 1968. The top listing is the renewal of the original registration filed when the work was unpublished. The remaining five renewal registrations are for published versions that differ in how the work is to be performed. (Illustrations: from the Jul-Dec 1967 “Music” Catalog, pg. 2346, and the Jan-Jun 1968 “Music” Catalog, pg. 831)|
Novels tend to be copyrighted by the first publisher, although the author (or his heirs) will renew it. This is demonstrated by the following illustrations.
|Sinclair Lewis was among America’s top authors when he published his terrific novel Dodsworth in 1929. As this listing appeared at the top of the page in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries, I have included the header information which are normally omitted from the illustrations reproduced here. The “1832” is the specific chronological placement for this listing in the April section of the 1929 “Books” volume. The actual page number on which this entry appeared was 274.|
|By the time that the first term of copyright in the novel Dodsworth came to its end, it had been adapted into a Broadway play by Sidney Howard (later to adapt Gone With the Wind into the legendary movie), and that play had been filmed as a sensitive, eloquent movie (produced by Samuel Goldwyn). Renewal of the copyright on the novel was necessary to preclude other playwrights and moviemakers from creating new adaptations of the novel which might compete with the authorized versions. As shown above, Lewis’s copyright on Dodsworth was renewed, as was his copyright on a magazine piece. The listings reproduced above show how the Catalog of Copyright Entries grouped together different works by the same author and how, where the renewal claimant was someone other than the author (here, the late author’s son), that other claimaint was given a cross-reference listing. (Illustration: Jan-Jun 1956 “Books” Catalog, pg. 703)|
|Sinclair Lewis’s earlier but no-less-well-regarded novel Elmer Gantry was published and registered in 1927. Owing to its theme of huckster evangelists abusing religion to live a sordid life, its adaptation into a movie would wait until Hollywood was willing to risk offending a potentially-large portion of movie-goers. When the release occurred in 1960, the novel was in its second term. (Illustration: pg. 261 of the 1927 “Books” Catalogue; the page falls into the May 1927 section)|
|The U.S. Copyright Office recorded the registration of a foreign translation published in Germany. (Illustration: 1156, the Sep 1928 section of the 1928 “Books” Catalogue)|
|As already indicated, the copyright on the 1927 novel entered its second term before
the 1960 movie was made. The second term began in 1955, as a result of the renewal
made during the 28th year (which ran in this case from March 10, 1927, to March 10, 1955).
(Illustration: pg. 710 of the 1954 “Books” Catalog,
within the Jan-Jun section)
The Catalog of Copyright Entries covering the period when the above translation of Elmer Gantry came up for renewal, don’t list a renewal for that particular copyright of November 30, 1927. However, as a derivative work, there is limited use that might be made of it by anyone not authorized to produce an edition of the original edition copyrighted March 10, 1927.
|The movie entitled The Last Time I Saw Paris was released in 1954 and
registered that same year. As this listing from the Catalog of Copyright Entries
makes clear, a copyright examiner for the Copyright Office discovered that the copyright
notice on the movie itself contains an incorrect year. Specifically, the year is ten
years earlier than the actual year. Although this false statement did not invalidate
the copyright (as would a misstatement giving the year as more than one year after the
actual year), it did shorten the first term (because the years 1944-1954 were counted
among the 28 years even though the work had not existed during that time) and it did
encumber Loew’s Incorporated with the responsibility of renewing prior to November 8,
1972, rather than December 31, 1982. The Copyright Office publications contain no
records (so far as this researcher has found) of renewal of this movie. It has
widely been sold in unauthorized but apparently-legal copies since the 1980s.
(A reproduction of the main title of the movie, showing the copyright notice, is included on the illustrations page on copyright notice.)
|As with the movie The Last Time I Saw Paris, so too did Road to Bali
contain a copyright notice that was a year earlier than the actual year of release and
copyright registration. For this movie, the year in the notice was merely one year
earlier. Nonetheless, this encumbered the claimants to renew by December 31, 1980,
rather than by the end of 1981. (illustration: from the Catalog of
Copyright Entries published by the Copyright Office)
(This renewal attempt is further elaborated by the next two illustrations.)
|(above and below:) One of the claimants (acting on behalf of both) attempted
to file for renewal after December 31, 1980. At the bottom of the first page (see
above) and at the top of the second page (see below), personnel of the
Copyright Office typed in that the copyright notice had been given as 1952 rather than
1953, as reported in the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) and the Cumulative
Copyright Catalog (CCC). The statement made by the Copyright Office to
“See UB File” indicates that the application as submitted entailed
“unfinished business.” Copyright Office procedure is to report the
irregularity to the claimant, which then has 120 days to respond and to bring the
application into compliance. The lack of any further documentation in the Copyright
Office suggests that any such action was not concluded to the satisfaction of the
As with the movie The Last Time I Saw Paris, the apparent cessation of copyright for Road to Bali has been long been known by public-domain video publishers, who have marketed many editions of Road to Bali (often in combination with another Bob Hope comedy in the public domain, My Favorite Brunette (1947)).
|Under the version of the Copyright Act in effect when this work was registered for copyright on January 1, 1953, the work would have reached the end of the first term on January 1, 1981, and thus would have had to be renewed by that date in order to enjoy a second term. However, the 1976 Act modified the terms (even on existing copyrights) so that copyrights “run to the end of the calendar year in which they would otherwise expire.” That rolled back the expiration date to December 31, 1981. Same year, but opposite end. The fact that this application was not completed by the claimant until August 31, 1981, and not received by the Copyright Office until September 1, 1981, were not indications of the registration being late. It was the 1952 year in the notice which established that the term ran 1952-1980.|
(below:) An instance of the Copyright Office accepting a renewal registration despite the presence of the same circumstances that led to deprival of second terms for The Last Time I Saw Paris and Road to Bali. The Three Stooges comedy short Heavenly Daze was released in 1949. As the Copyright Office noted in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, the copyright notice gives the year as 1947, which is earlier than the actual year. (This same remark was copied in the Cumulative Copyright Catalog, Motion Pictures, 1940-1949, not reproduced here.) On this particular listing, the Catalog of Copyright Entries reached the end of one column before the listing was finished, so the last lines were printed at the top of the next column. This accounts for the break within the listing shown below. (Illustration: pg. 75 of the 1949 Catalog of Copyright Entries volume for “Motion
||illustrations at left: This frame from the opening credits of Heavenly Daze (including the detail, shown bottom) demonstrates that Columbia Picture’s 1949 Three Stooges comedy erroneously gave the year of copyright as 1947. Having committed this goof, Columbia’s time window to file its renewal moved up to two year earlier than it otherwise would (1974-75 rather than 1976-77); not realizing this, the studio filed at the later time.|
After the Copyright Office accepted the renewal registration for Heavenly Daze, the most vital facts were listed in the “Renewals” section of the Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1976 Motion Pictures. Here is the listing for Heavenly Daze, which appears fourth in this column. During the final years of the print edition of the Catalog of Copyright Entries, just before the Copyright Office went to strictly electronic records in 1979, registrations and renewals were listed in numerical order by registration number. This makes a search for a particular listing more difficult than had been the case when all of the listings for a given six-month or one-year period were alphabetized. In the column below, all of the renewal registrations are dated August 4, 1976, and were taken out by Columbia Pictures (which apparently submitted a slew at once), yet the titles are not in alphabetical order.
The 1947 date in the notice of Heavenly Daze encumbered Columbia to renew this short by December 31, 1975. Instead, Columbia applied for renewal August 4, 1976, which fell within the 28th year following registration (July 20, 1976 to July 20, 1977) but beyond the 28 years which began with the year in the date.
|(next two images:) The application for renewal on Heavenly Daze does not contain any remarks added by personnel of the Copyright Office indicating any discovery on the part of the Copyright Office that the notice contained an earlier year and that the timeliness of the application was in doubt. Nonetheless, any failure on the part of the Copyright Office in this regard does not “save” a renewal where the application was invalid. (See in this regard summaries elsewhere on this web site reporting court decisions that have ruled as valid some renewals accepted by the Copyright Office. See also summaries of court decisions in cases of the Register of Copyrights being sued by parties whose registrations he had rejected and where the courts ruled against the Register of Copyrights.)|
Merchants of public-domain video have long offered unathorized-but-legal copies of four Columbia shorts starring the Three Stooges which are well-established to be the public domain. (For the benefit of the perhaps very few people who have not encountered dozens of such editions in stores and online, I will report here that the four shorts are Disorder in the Court, Sing a Song of Six Pants, Brideless Groom and Malice in the Palace.) Despite the apparent strong market for Three Stooges on video, distributors who for over a decade have kept available The Last Time I Saw Paris and Road to Bali have never offered Heavenly Daze.
If you’d like more examples of works copyrighted in one particular year although the year in the copyright notice displays a different—earlier—year, take a look at a page devoted to that, illustrated by listings from the Catalog of Copyright Entries. These additional reports of instances where the year in the copyright notice is earlier than the registration year, along with the renewal information, are provided on this supplementary page: Copyright renewal records for 1950s Warner Bros. cartoons with too-early years in copyright notice.
Declaration of renewal on post-renewal copies of the work itself
Copyright law does not require that copyright renewal information be placed on copies of works made during the second term. Naturally, as a result, many publishers do not revise their plates (or film negatives, or other master materials) to incorporate this information.
Below is a notice that appeared in an edition of Sinclair Lewis’s novel Main Street that was published during the second term. (The copyright on the novel expired at the end of 1995, with the end of the second term, and the work has passed into the public domain.)
Below is copyright registration and renewal declarations for Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. With Twain’s passing in 1910, his heir renewed. Between 1885 and 1912, different editions were published. (See the illustrations page on registrations for the wording of the registrations, with that of the 1896 edition declaring it to be “New Edition from New Plates”.)
Movies tend not to be revised to accommodate any desire that their rights-holders might have to communicate a copyright renewal.
(The illustration on the right is not the original title either. It’s from a reissue during the first term of copyright. Like the other title screen shown here, it was not part of the version originally copyrighted and never copyrighted on its own. This version had the copyright notice on a different screen of the credits. These two illustrations in conjunction demonstrate how a work may change.)
Few movies have been modified to add onto the copyright notice the renewal declaration. The absence of renewal data does not lessen the enforceability of the copyrights. Charlie Chaplin films owned by him in their second tems are among those on which the copyright-declaration screens were reconfigured to tack on the renewal information. Viewers who see the original-release version of Modern Times see only the 1936 date in the titles and also see during the credits that the second hand on the clock behind the wording remains in motion throughout. On copies of the film on which the renewal information was added, the second hand on the clock becomes frozen when then copyright information is shown. This is because only one frame of the original credits were modified in supplementing the renewal year after the original year, and this one modified frame is reprinted scores of times so that is on screen for about as long as the earlier, motion-containing credit screen had been. Film purists can be thankful that few film companies have defaced their early films in this way, and that such defacement is not necessary for compliance with the law.
|“The Copyright Office is frequently asked whether the notice of copyright should be changed on copies of a work issued during the renewal term. The copyright law is silent on this point, and the continued use of the original form of notice may therefore be considered appropriate. However, a notice that also refers to the fact of renewal might be regarded as more informative and, hence, preferable” (Information Circular 15)|
Works registered within larger works and not renewed
These photos are among several of Frank Sinatra that appeared in Look magazine in three consecutive issues in 1957. All three of these photos were shot by Phil Stern and had not appeared in print before. Additional photos of Sinatra by Stern appeared in the same issues, as did photos by other photographers who had obtained the opportunity to focus their cameras on Sinatra. Look magazine copyrighted the issues, but no renewals were secured when the copyright term ended in 1985.
Stern incorporated some of the Look images into compilation books published long after 1985. By that time, anyone could have done so without his permission. Although Stern was secure in his copyright registrations for the books, these particular images had entered the public domain for lack of renewal. Stern filed suit against a website owner for that site’s unauthorized posting of some of the Look photographs of Sinatra, but Stern discovered (from a law professional) thereafter that there was no longer copyright protection in them.
(A similar situation, concerning photographer George Barris’s Summer-1962 pictures of Marilyn Monroe, is discussed in the Citations and Case Summaries page on renewal failure.)
This page provides examples on Copyright Renewal, so the passages on
You’ve seen the illustrations —
You’ve read the captions —
Now read passages from the law
and read what the courts decided.
Read Citations and Case Summaries on:
• Renewal failure
• Renewal registration rights
• Renewal registration rights: next-of-kin
• Renewal window (term period) calculation
• 1962-1976 extensions of second-term renewal dates (no case summaries)
• Renewal eligibility in 1977 (no case summaries)
• • •
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The Copyright Registration and Renewal Information Chart and Web Site
© 2007,2008 David P. Hayes