Copyright Renewal and Length of Protection

General Information

The length of copyright protection afforded a work created in the U.S. vary according to the Copyright Act (and any amendments thereto) in effect at the time the work was created, published, or registered with the Copyright Office. The various applicable laws are confusing and complex, though they have been summarized by Cornell University to some degree.

The Copyright Act of 1976 took effect on January 1, 1978 and simplified the length of copyright protection for works created on or after that date. This Act entirely did away with the ability or requirement to renew the original copyright term. Taking into account the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, the length of the copyright term for works created on or after January 1, 1978 is as follows:

  • Work by one author: life of the author plus 70 years
  • Work by joint (two or more) authors: life of the last surviving author plus 70 years
  • Works made for hire: 95 years from date of publication or 120 years from date of creation, whichever is less
  • Anonymous / Psuedonymous works: 95 years from date of publication or 120 years from date of creation, whichever is less (if the author’s name is disclosed to the Copyright Office, then term is the life of the author plus 70 years)

The copyright given to works created before January 1, 1978 has either:

  • Expired, so the work is in the public domain
  • Is fixed, with no further action available
  • Is fixed, with the option to file a renewal

Purpose/Necessity

Only works created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 are affected. Such works have a copyright term of 95 years from the date of publication (divided between 28 and 67-year terms). The renewal filing is not required to secure this term, but confers certain benefits:

  1. Establishes a public record of copyright ownership, with a presumption of validity
  2. Makes it easier to disprove an “innocent infringement” defense in a copyright infringement action
  3. Facilitates easier licensing of the work
  4. Required to obtain statutory damages and attorney’s fees in infringement suits for infringements occurring after the renewal registration is made
  5. Required to obtain statutory damages and attorney’s fees for published works not registered for the original term (within 28 years from the date of publication)

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When is a copyrightable work created, thereby beginning its duration of copyright protection?
    • A work is created once it is an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright Act Section 102(a).
  • On what exact day during the year will a copyright expire?
    • Under the 1976 Copyright Act, all terms of copyright run through the end of the calendar year in which they expire. Therefore, a copyright currently in effect can only expire on December 31 of the relevant expiration year, given the length of the copyright term. Copyright Office – Circular 15a.
  • By when must the renewal be filed for it to have any effect?
    • A renewal may be filed at any time during the second 67-year term of copyright protection. As all works created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 are currently in their second term, the renewal may be filed at any time while the copyright is in effect, which is within 95 years from the date of first publication or registration. Copyright Office – Circular 15.
  • Who is entitled to claim copyright for the renewal term?
    • Copyright for the renewal term vests automatically in the person or entity entitled to claim that right on the last day of the original term of copyright, or on December 31st of the 28th year following publication or registration as an unpublished work. Copyright Act Section 304(a)(2).The following is the order in which a person or person may claim the renewal:
      1. The author
      2. The widow(er) and/or surviving child(ren) of the author
      3. The executor named in the author’s will
      4. A person recognized by state law as the next of kin of the author
      5. The assignee/successor to any above person so long as the above person was entitled to claim the copyright on December 31st of the 28th year following publication or registration
  • May I renew my copyright multiple times?
    • No, under the Copyright Act of 1909, renewal was available only once. However, may such works governed by that Act have already been renewed or have fallen into the public domain. Only works created between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 may still file a renewal, if this has not already been done. The Copyright Act of 1976 eliminated the ability/requirement to renew, as applicable to works created on or after January 1, 1978, so renewal is not an option for recently created works.

Legal Services Offered and Cost

Copyright Renewal
Note: this service is only available to copyright holders whose work was published or registered between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977
Legal fees: $200 flat fee
Filing fees and other costs: $115 for Renewal Registration Form RE. Copyright Office Fees.
This includes:

  1. Review of client’s information to ensure legal requirements are fulfilled
  2. Answer client questions, make corrections, and obtain additional information as needed
  3. Completion of Renewal Registration Form RE
  4. Filing of Form RE, Addendum (if necessary), filing fee, and copy of the original work (if necessary) with the Copyright Office
  5. Email confirmation of copyright renewal acceptance by the Copyright Office with official Certificate of Registration

If you are ready to get started, please CLICK HERE to enter basic information using our secure online form.