Copyright Duration Exercises

To test your understanding of the copyright duration rules, determine the date on which the following works entered, or will enter, the public domain. These problems appear on page 670 of the textbook.

1. A novel, written by Alice Author, first published with proper copyright notice on July 1, 1930. Alice Author died December 1, 1931.

Copyright protection would have expired on July 1, 1958, unless proper renewal registration was filed in the 28th year of protection. With proper renewal registration, the work would enter the public domain on January 1, 2026. Remember, under the 1976 Act, unlike the 1909 Act, copyright duration runs until the end of the calendar year. The date of Alice’s death is irrelevant because the work was created and published before 1978.

2. A novel, written by Benjamin Author, never published. Benjamin Author died in 1900. Would the answer be different if the work were first published in 1980? Would it matter whether the published copies bore proper copyright notice?

Under Section 303, as a work that was unpublished prior to 1978, the copyright in this work would have a duration of the life of the author +70 year, but because that would have expired in 1970 (1900+70 = 1970), the minimum term Congress provided under the 1976 Act would apply, providing protection until 12/31/2002. Remember that under the 1976 Act works created before 1978 but previously unpublished were brought under federal statutory protection (eliminating any state common law protection) and given protection until the end of 2002. The unpublished novel would have entered the public domain on January 1, 2003.

If the work were published in 1980, its copyright would extend until the end of 2047, entering the public domain on January 1, 2048. See 17 U.S.C. §303. The published copies would need to have proper copyright notice because the 1980 publication date is prior to March 1, 1989, the effective date of the Berne Convention Implementation Act.

3. A computer software program written by Patience Programmer, an employee of DataSystems, Inc., in 1988. Copies of the program were sold to the public, with no copyright notice, from November 1989 through January 1992. Patience Programmer died in 1990.

This work will be in the public domain on January 1, 2085. Because this work is a work for hire, Patience’s date of death is not relevant. The duration rule that applies is 120 years from creation: 1988+120= 2108 OR 95 years from publication: 1989+95=2084 -- whichever expires first (12/31/2084). That the work was published without notice does not matter because the publications all occurred after March 1, 1989.

4. A song written in 2001 by the mother/daughter team of Mamma Moore and Cindy Moore, copies of which were distributed beginning on January 1, 2010. Mamma Moore died in 2002, Cindy Moore dies in 2040.

This work will be in the public domain on January 1, 2111. This is a joint work; its duration is therefore measured by the life of the last surviving author plus 70 years. Remember, copyright duration runs to the end of the calendar year.

5. A novel by the German novelist Hans Schmidt, first published in Germany in 1927 and republished in the United States without proper notice of copyright in 1935. Schmidt died in 1955. (Review the materials on restoration of lapsed foreign copyrights, section A.6 in the book, before you answer.)

If Schmidt’s German copyright has not expired, he is eligible to take advantage of the restoration provisions and the work will remain protected until 12/31/2022. Per §304 the work would have received a total term of protection of 95 years if the copyright had not lapsed, so Schmidt or his heirs will enjoy copyright protection until the end of 2022 (1927 + 95 = 2022). The lack of proper notice and the failure to file a renewal, are both reasons for which the lapsed copyright protection is restored.