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How long does a copyright last?
The length of time of copyright protection depends upon three factors:
• When the copyright was created,
• The length of the author’s life, and
• Whether the creator was an individual or a firm.
Generally, a work created after January 1, 1978 is automatically protected for a period of 70 years past the life of the last living creator. Works created by entities (by employees or works for hire) are protected for the lesser of 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation. A complicated set of rules applies for calculating the length of protection of a copyrighted work created prior to 1978. In summary, if a work was created, but not published or subject to copyright, similar rules apply as for a work created after 1977. The difference is that a copyright is only guaranteed a minimum of 25 years of protection based the date of creation – until 2002. If the copyright is subsequently published during this 25-year window, the 25-year period is extended to 70 years. If the pre-1978 copyright was subject to copyright protection, the 1909 Act applies to the work. In this case, the work receives 28 years of protection from the date of creation. The protections can be extended for an additional 28 years upon application during the 28th year.
• Discussion: How do you feel about the divergent methods of determining copyright protections for works before and after January 1, 1978? What are the justifications for maintaining this system?
• Practice Question: Mark wrote two songs. One he wrote in 1977 and the other he wrote in 1978. He has never made any filings for copyright protection. What are Mark’s protective rights in these two songs?