Circular 15a2 15a.0104
Duration of Copyright
Provisions of the Law Dealing
with the Length of Copyright Protection
This circular provides a general summary of the statutory provisions dealing
with duration of copyright under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended June
26, 1992, and October 27, 1998.
Works Already Under Statutory Protection Before 1978
For works that had already secured statutory copyright protection before Janu-
ary 1, 1978, the 1976 law retains the old system for computing the duration of
protection, but with some changes.
Duration Under the Previous Law
Under the law in effect before 1978, copyright was secured either on the date a
work was published or on the date of registration if the work was registered in
unpublished form. In either case, the copyright lasted for a first term of 28 years
from the date it was secured. The copyright was eligible for renewal during the
last (28th) year of the first term. If renewed, the copyright was extended for a
second term of 28 years.¹ If not renewed, the copyright expired at the end of
the first 28-year term. The term of copyright for works published with a year
date in the notice that is earlier than the actual date of publication is computed
from the year date in the copyright notice.
Effect of the Present Law on Length of Subsisting Copyrights
The old system of computing the duration of protection was carried over
into the 1976 statute with one major change: the length of the second term is
increased to 67 years.² Thus, the maximum total term of copyright protection
for works already protected by federal statute is increased from 56 years (a first
term of 28 years plus a renewal term of 28 years) to 95 years (a first term of 28
years plus a renewal term of 67 years).
The specific situation for works copyrighted before 1978 depends on whether
the copyright had already been renewed or was still in its first term on Decem-
ber 31, 1977.
2 · Duration of Copyright
Works originally copyrighted before 1950 and renewed