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How Long Do Copyrights Last?

By Jill Gilbert Welytok

Artists found a political friend in the late Sonny Bono. Sonny Bono, holder of a number of copyrights to hit songs of the early 70's, proposed some legislation that clearly reflected his own concerns and those of his fellow artists.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, signed into law on October 27, 1998, generally extended the duration of copyright protection an additional 20 years. It also makes a sharp distinction between works created before and after 1978.

Works Created and Published After January 1, 1978

For works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For jointly created works, the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For anonymous and pseudonymous works and works made for hire, the term is 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.

For Works Created But Not Published Prior to 1978

For works created but not published or registered before January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for life of the author plus 70 years, but in no case will it expire earlier than December 31, 2002. If the work is published before December 31, 2002, the term will not expire before December 31, 2047.

Pre-1978 Works

For pre-1978 works still in their original or renewal term of copyright, the total term is extended to 95 years from the date that copyright was originally secured. Works for which the copyright has expired are called public domain works. The status of public domain works was not affected by the Sonny Bono Copyright Act.


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