How long is copyright protection valid on new works?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 14, 2021

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Whether you decided to register it or not, your copyright is a personal property right that gives you copyright protection from unauthorized use by others. To ensure and safeguard this right, you should understand how long your copyright protection will last.

The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors. Copyright protection may be affected if the copyright has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. Generally, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author or copyright owner plus an additional 70 years. For example, if the author is now age 21 and lives 75 more years, copyright protection would last for 145 years.

If a work is anonymous, or created for hire, or the author used an assumed name, the terms are different. In cases like these, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For items published before 1978, the terms can be complicated. Calling or emailing the U.S. Copyright Office is the best way to determine how long copyright protection for these works will last. 

You don’t have to renew your copyright to maintain copyright protection, but it would be good to do so in certain situations. Copyrights for works published or registered before January 1, 1978 may be renewed after 28 years. Because after a time, copyrights can become part of the public domain (widely known and available for unrestricted use), renewing older copyrights has some legal advantages.

For information on whether a copyright renewal is right for you and how to file a renewal application to maintain your copyright protection, go to the U.S. Copyright Office’s website or contact a copyright attorney. Works published or registered after January 1, 1978 are not subject to copyright renewal registration.

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