Not all copyrights with a too-early notice date lead to the copyright owner missing the renewal opportunity

On the Copyright Renewal and Researching the Copyright Status of a Work illustration pages, readers saw examples of copyrighted works on which the date in the copyright notice was an earlier year than the actual date of copyright, and readers learned that the copyright owners of these specific works failed to obtain a second term of copyright on these works.

LastParisMovie.gif (6836 bytes)M-G-M’s star-studded 1954 feature film (see illustration at right) has a copyright date that is ten years earlier than the actual year of publication.  The illustration shown here is the listing for the film in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, which notes with “(in notice: 1944)” which year was in the notice.  Readers of the Catalog of Copyright Entries need only glance at the 1954 copyright-effective date (“8Nov54”) to detect the conflicting information.  (On the film itself, the year in the notice is given in Roman numerals—“MCMXLIV”—which is less obviously wrong to eyes untrained in reading Roman numerals.)

The classic film D.O.A. was released and registered for copyright in 1950, but the date given in the copyright notice is 1949.  The copyright owner filed for renewal of the copyright based on the 1950 date, and the Copyright Office initially accepted and processed the registration.  Fourteen months later, the Copyright Office cancelled the renewal.  As the accompanying illustration shows, the Copyright Office cited the 1949 date in the notice in remarking “Too late for renewal registration.”

The Three Stooges comedy Heavenly Daze was released and registered for copyright in 1949, albeit with a 1947 date in the copyright notice.  The Copyright Office noted this discrepency in the Catalog of Copyright Entries at the time that the original registration as listed.  (The relevant part of the listing accompanies this paragraph, as does an image of the copyright notice in the film itself.)  When the renewal window for 1949 copyrights came around, Columbia Pictures applied for renewal based on the 1949 date, and the Copyright Office accepted and processed the renewal as renewal number 638601 dated August 4, 1976.  This time, the Copyright Office did not cancel the renewal.
HeavDaze_reg_bot.gif (1232 bytes)

Examples such as the ones on this page and reported in the court decisions elsewhere on this web site, may have readers suspecting that copyright holders perhaps never time their filing of renewal registrations to the earlier date when there is a conflict involving two dates.  However, the following portion of a page of the Catalog of Copyright Entries should prompt them to cast aside that suspicion.

The text below was photographed from a complete copy of the Catalog of Copyright Entries volume for Motion Pictures, July-December 1977, page 285.  This page is in the section of “Renewals” listings at the back of the volume.  The complete page has three columns of text; only the second and third columns are reproduced here.  The book was published by the Government Printing Office.  The specific copy photographed for this illustration is in the collection of the Library of Congress and was photographed on its premises.

As you read the titles of the works copyrighted and see that in the titles are “Daffy,” “Tweety,” “Putty Tat,” “Leghorn,” and variations of “Rabbit” (including “Hare” and “Bunny”), it should be obvious that these are Warner Bros. cartoons.  The registrations were originally made in the name of The Vitaphone Corporation, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., with the parent organization taking out the renewals in the corporate name more frequently associated with the cartoon characters.  The Catalog of Copyright Entries for 1977 listed renewal registrations in the order in which they were processed by the Copyright Office, so you can see here that Warner Bros. submitted at one time a large number of renewals for cartoons with release dates and copyright dates interspersed over several years yet having the common aspect of “1950” given as the copyright date in the onscreen credits.  Looking over the list, you see 1951 works with “in notice: 1950”, 1952 works with “in notice: 1950”, and even 1959 works with “in notice: 1950”.

Copyright Catalog columns with timely Warner Bros. cartoon renewals

These examples should put to rest any notion that anyone ever had that copyright holders always fail to renew on a timely basis the copyrights of works on which the copyright date was given as an earlier year than was the actual one for production, release, and copyright registration.

Readers should be mindful—as diligent legal departments working on behalf of major movie studios should have been expected to be—that no later than 1935, a court decided that an earlier year in a copyright notice worked against a copyright owner having as much time as he expected before having to renew for a second term.  A song entitled “An Arizona Home” was thus affected in Southern Music Pub. Co. v. Bibo-Lang, Inc.. (Click link to read summary.)

On November 16, 1981, the Code of Federal Regulations was amended to add a subsection concerning renewals on works with early copyright dates.  Before then, §202.17(c)(1) (previously cited as §202.17(a)) already specified that “claims to renewal copyright must be registered within the last year of the original copyright term,” followed by the method of calculating the dates which bookend that time window.  Below that paragraph was added a new one:

(2) The provisions of paragraph (c)(1), of this section are subject to the following qualification: In any case where the year date in the notice on copies distributed by authority of the copyright owner is earlier than the year of first publication, claims to renewal copyright must be registered within the last year of the original copyright term, which begins on December 31 of the 27th year from the year contained in the notice, and runs through December 31 of the 28th year from the year contained in the notice.

It remained the case that the paragraph cited in the above quotation, paragraph (c)(1), warned copyright holders, “Unless the required applicaton and fee are received in the Copyright Office during the prescribed period before the first term of copyright expires, the copyright in the unrenewed work terminates at the expiration of twenty-eight years from the end of the calendar year in which copyright was originally secured. The Copyright Office has no discretion to extend the renewal time limits.”  (The changes and additions of November 16, 1981, were announced in the Federal Register of Thursday, December 3, 1981, 46 FR 58671.)

The 1976 Copyright Act in its §406(b) had previously codified the edict that copyright expirations were to be determined by the year in the copyright notice in cases where the date in the notice was the earlier date.  Section 406(b) does not, however, lay down the bold point that “[t]he Copyright Office has no discretion to extend the renewal time limits.”



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