Coalition for Networked Information
Information Policies: A Compilation of Position Statements, Principles,
Statutes, and Other Pertinent Statements
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20559
Source: Copyright Basics, Circular 1, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, January 1991
Two General Principles
Copyright protection is available for all unpublished works, regardless of the nationality or domicile of the author. Published works are eligible for copyright protection in the United States if any one of the following conditions is met:
What Works Are Protected
Copyright protects "original works of authorship" that are fixed in a tangible form of expression. The fixation need not directly perceptible, so long as it may be communicated with the aid of a machine or device. Copyrightable works include the following categories:
These categories should be viewed quite broadly; for example, computer programs and most "compilations" are registrable as "literary works"; maps and architectural plans are registrable as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."
What is Not Protected by Copyright
Several categories of material are generally not eligible for statutory copyright protection. These include among others:
Copyright Secured Automatically Upon Creation
The way in which copyright protection is secured under the present law is frequently misunderstood. No publication or registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright. There are, however, certain definite advantages to registration. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is "created" when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. "Copies" are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm. "Phonorecords" are material objects embodying fixations of sounds (excluding, by statutory definition, motion picture soundtracks), such as audio tapes and phonograph disks. Thus, for example, a song (the "work") can be fixed in sheet music ("copies") or in phonograph disks ("phonorecords"), or both.If a work is prepared over a period of time, the part of the work existing in fixed form on a particular date constitutes the created work as of that date.
Publication is no longer the key to obtaining statutory copyright as it was under the Copyright Act of 1909. However, publication remains important to copyright owners.
The Copyright Act defines publication as follows:
"Publication" is the distribution of copies or phonorecords of a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies or phonorecords to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.
A further discussion of the definition of "publication" can be found in the legislative history of the Act. The legislative reports define "to the public" as distribution to persons under no explicit or implicit restrictions with respect to disclosure of the contents. The reports state that the definition makes it clear that the sale of phonorecords constitutes publication of the underlying work, for example, the musical, dramatic, or literary work embodied in a phonorecord. The reports also state that it is clear that any form of dissemination in which the material object does not change hands, for example, performances or displays on television, is not a publication no matter how many people are exposed to the work. However, when copies or phonorecords are offered for sale or lease to a group of wholesalers, broadcasters, or motion picture theaters, publication does not take place if the purpose is further distribution, public performance, or public display.
Publication is an important concept in the copyright law for several reasons:
For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional, though highly recommended. Before March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published works, and any work first published before that date must bear a notice or risk loss of copyright protection.
Use of the notice is recommended because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the court will not allow a defendant to claim "innocent infringement"--that is, that he or she did not realize that the work is protected. (A successful innocent infringement claim may result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.)
The use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.
Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies
The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all of the following three elements:
The "C in a circle" notice is used only on "visually perceptible copies." Certain kinds of works -- for example, musical, dramatic, and literary works -- may be fixed not in "copies" but by means of sound in an audio recording. Since audio recordings such as audio tapes and phonograph disks are "phonorecords" and not "copies," the "C in a circle" notice is not used to indicate protection of the underlying musical, dramatic, or literary work that is recorded.
Form of Notice for Phonorecords of Sound Recordings
The copyright notice for phonorecords of sound recordings has somewhat different requirements. The notice appearing on phonorecords should contain the following three elements:
NOTE: Since questions may arise from the use of variant forms of the notice, any form of the notice other than those given here should not be used without first seeking legal advice.
Position of Notice
The notice should be affixed to copies or phonorecords of the work in such an manner and location as to "give reasonable notice on the claim of copyright." The notice on phonorecords may appear on the surface of the phonorecord or on the phonorecord label or container, provided the manner of placement and location give reasonable notice of the claim. The three elements of the notice should ordinarily appear together on the copies or phonorecords.
The Copyright Office has issued regulations concerning the form and position of the copyright notice in the Code of Federal Regulations (37 C.F.R. Part 201). For more information, request Circular 3.
Publications Incorporating United States Government Works
Works by the United States Government are not eligible for copyright protection. For works published on and after March 1, 1989, the previous notice requirement for works consisting primarily of one or more U.S. Government works has been eliminated. However, use of the copyright notice for these works is still strongly recommended. Use of a notice on such a work will defeat a claim of innocent infringement as previously described provided the notice also includes a statement that identifies one of the following: those portions of the work in which copyright is claimed or those portions that constitute U.S. Government material. An example is:
Copr. 1991 Jane Brown. Copyright claimed in Chapters 7-10, exclusive ofU.S. Government maps.
Works published before March 1, 1989, that consist primarily of one or more works of the U.S. Government must bear a notice and the identifying statement.
To avoid an inadvertent publication without notice, the author or other owner of copyright may wish to place a copyright notice on any copies or phonorecords that leave his or her control.
Effect of Omission of the Notice or of Error in the Name or Date
The Copyright Act, in sections 405 and 406, provides procedures for correcting errors and omissions of the copyright notice on works published on or after January 1, 1978 and before March 1, 1989.In general, if a notice was omitted or an error was made on copies distributed between January 1, 1978, and March 1, 1989, the copyright was not automatically lost. Copyright protection may be maintained if registration for the work has been made before or is made within 5 years after the publication without notice, and a reasonable effort is made to add the notice to all copies or phonorecords that are distributed to the public in the United States after the omission has been discovered. For more information request Circular 3.
How Long Copyright Protection Endures Works
Originally Copyrighted on or After January 1, 1978
A work that is created (fixed in tangible form for the first time) on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation, and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author's life, plus an additional 50 years after the author's death. In the case of "a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire," the term lasts for 50 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright will be 75 years from publication or 100 years from creation, whichever is shorter.
Works that were created but not published or registered for copyright before January 1, 1978, have been automatically brought under the statute and are now given Federal copyright protection. The duration of copyright in these works will generally be computed in the same way as for works created on or after January 1, 1978: the life-plus-50 or 75/100-year terms will apply to them as well. The law provides that in no case will the term of copyright for works in this category expire before December 31, 2002, and for works published on or before December 31, 2002, the term of copyright will not expire before December 31, 2027.
Works Copyrighted Before January 1, 1978
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 endured for a first term of 28 years from the date it was secured. During the last (28th) year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal. The current copyright law has extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years for copyrights that were subsisting on January 1, 1978, making these works eligible for a total term of protection of 75 years. However, the copyright must be timely renewed to receive the 47-year period of added protection. This is accomplished by filing a properly completed form RE accompanied by a $12 filing fee in the Copyright Office before the end of the 28th calendar year of the original term.
For more detailed information on the copyright term, write to the Copyright Office and request Circulars 15a and 15t. For information on how to search the Copyright Office records concerning the copyright status of a work, ask for Circular 22.
Transfer of Copyright
Any or all of the exclusive rights, or any subdivision of those rights, of the copyright owner may be transferred, but the transfer of exclusive rights is not valid unless that transfer is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed (or such owner's duly authorized agent). Transfer of a right on a nonexclusive basis does not require a written agreement.
A copyright may also be convened by operation of law and may be bequeathed by will or pass as personal property by the applicable laws of intestate succession.
Copyright is a personal property right, and it is subject to the various state laws and regulations that govern the ownership, inheritance, or transfer of personal property as well as terms of contracts or conduct of business. For information about relevant state laws, consult an attorney.
Transfers of copyright are normally made by contract. The Copyright Office does not have or supply any forms for such transfers. However, the law does provide for the recordation in the Copyright Office of transfers of copyright ownership. Although recordation is not required to make a valid transfer between the parties, it does provide certain legal advantages and may be required to validate the transfer as against third parties. For information on recordation of transfers and other documents related to copyright, request Circular 12.
Termination of Transfers
Under the previous law, the copyright in a work generally reverted to the author, if living, or if the author was not living, to other specified beneficiaries, provided a renewal claim was registered in the 28th year of the original term. The present law drops the renewal feature except for works already in the first term of statutory protection when the present law took effect. Instead, the present law generally permits termination of a grant of rights after 35 years under certain conditions by serving written notice on the transferee within specified time limits.
For works already under statutory copyright protection before 1978, the present law provides a similar right of termination covering the newly added years that extended the former maximum term of the copyright from 56 to 75 years. For further information, request Circulars 15a and 15t.
International Copyright Protection
There is no such thing as an "international copyright" that will automatically protect an author's writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However, most countries do offer protection to foreign works under certain conditions, and these conditions have been greatly simplified by international copyright treaties and conventions. For a list of countries which maintain copyright relations with the United States, request Circular 38a.
The United States belongs to both global, multilateral copyright treaties--the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The United States was a founding member of the UCC, which came into force on September 16, 1955. Generally, a work by a national or domiciliary of a country that is a member of the UCC or a work first published in a UCC country may claim protection under the UCC. If the work bears the notice of copyright in the form and position specified by the UCC, this notice will satisfy and substitute for any other formalities a UCC member country would otherwise impose as a condition of copyright. A UCC notice should consist of the symbol "C in a circle" accompanied by the name of the copyright proprietor and the year of first publication of the work.
By joining the Berne Convention on March 1, 1989, the United States gained protection for its authors in all member nations of the Berne Union with which the United States formerly had either no copyright relations or had bilateral treaty arrangements. Members of the Berne Union agree to a certain minimum level of copyright protection and agree to treat nationals of other member countries like their own nationals for purposes of copyright. A work first published in the United Sates or another Berne Union country (or first published in a non-Berne country, followed by publication within 30 days in a Berne Union country) is eligible for protection in all Berne member countries. There are no special requirements. For information on the legislation implementing the Berne Convention, request Circular 93 from the Copyright Office.
An author who wishes protection for his or her work in a particular country should first find out the extent of protection of foreign works in that country. If possible, this should be done before the work is published anywhere, since protection may often depend on the facts existing at the time of first publication.
If the country in which protection is sought is a party to one of the international copyright conventions, the work may generally be protected by complying with the conditions of the convention. Even if the work cannot be brought under an international convention, protection under the specific provisions of the country's national laws may still be possible. Some countries, however, offer little or no copyright protection for foreign works.
In general, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. However, except in two specific situations, registration is not a condition of copyright protection. Even though registration is not generally a requirement for protection, the copyright law provides several inducements or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make registration. Among these advantages are the following:
A. To register a work, send the following three elements in the same envelope of package to the Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559: (see section What Happens If the Three Elements Are Not Received Together.)
Special Deposit Requirements
Special deposit requirements exist for many types of work. In some instances, only one copy is required for published works, in other instances only identifying material is required, and in still other instances, the deposit requirement may be unique. The following are three prominent examples of exceptions to the general deposit requirements:
If you are unsure of the deposit requirement for your work, write or call the Copyright Office and describe the work you wish to register.
A work may be registered in unpublished form as a "collection," with one application and one fee, under the following conditions:
To correct an error in a copyright registration or to amplify the information given in a registration, file a supplementary registration form--Form CA--with the Copyright Office. The information in a supplementary registration augments but does not supersede that contained in the earlier registration. Note also that a supplementary registration is not a substitute for an original registration, for renewal registration, or for recording a transfer of ownership. For further information about supplementary registration, request Circular 8.
Mandatory Deposit for Works Published in the United States
Although a copyright registration is not required, the Copyright Act establishes a mandatory deposit requirement for works published in the United States (see definition of "publication" on page 4 of Circular 1). In general, the owner of copyright, or the owner of the exclusive right of publication in the work, has a legal obligation to deposit in the Copyright Office, within 3 months of publication in the United States, 2 copies (or, in the case of sound recordings, 2 phonorecords) for the use of the Library of Congress. Failure to make the deposit can result in fines and other penalties, but does not affect copyright protection.
Certain categories of works are exempt entirely from the mandatory deposit requirements, and the obligation is reduced for certain other categories. For further information about mandatory deposit, request Circular 7d.
NOTE: Library of Congress Catalog Card Numbers. A Library of Congress Catalog Card Number is different from a copyright registration number. The Cataloging in Publication (CIP) Division of the Library of Congress is responsible for assigning LC Catalog Card Numbers and is operationally separate from the Copyright Office. A book may be registered in or deposited with the Copyright Office but not necessarily cataloged and added to the Library's collections. For information about obtaining an LC Catalog Card Number, contact the CIP Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540. For information on International Standard Book Numbering (ISBN), write to: ISBN Agency, R.R. Bowker Company, 245 West 17th Street, New York, N.Y. 10011. For information on International Standard Serial Numbering (ISSN), write to: Library of Congress, National Serials Data Program, Washington, D.C. 20540.
Use of Mandatory Deposit to Satisfy Registration Requirements
For works published in the United States the Copyright Act contains a provision under which a single deposit can be made to satisfy both the deposit requirements for the Library and the registration requirements. In order to have this dual effect, the copies or phonorecords must be accompanied by the prescribed application and filing fee.
Who May File an Application Form
The following persons are legally entitled to submit an application form:
For Original Registration
Form TX: for published and unpublished nondramatic literary worksForm SE: for serials, works issued or intended to be issued in successive parts bearing numerical or chronological designations and intended to be continued indefinitely (periodicals, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, annuals, journals, etc.)
Short Form/SE and Form SE/GROUP: specialized SE forms for use when certain requirements are met
Form PA: for published and unpublished works of the performing arts (musical and dramatic works, pantomimes and choreographic works, motion pictures and other audiovisual works)
Form VA: for published and unpublished works of the visual arts (pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works including architectural works)
Form SR: for published and unpublished sound recordings
For Renewal Registration
Form RE: for claims to renewal copyright in works copyrighted under the law in effect through December 31, 1977 (1909 Copyright Act)
For Corrections and Amplifications
FORM CA: for supplementary registration to correct or amplify information given in the Copyright Office record of an earlier registration
For a Group of Contributions to Periodicals
Form GR/CP: an adjunct application to be used for registration of agroup of contributions to periodicals in addition to an application Form TX, PA, or VA
Free application forms are supplied by the Copyright Office.
Copyright Office Hotline
NOTE: Requestors may order application forms and circulars at any time by telephoning 202-707-9100. Orders will be recorded automatically and filled as quickly as possible.
All applications and materials related to copyright registration should be addressed to the Register of Copyrights, Copyright Office, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559.
The application, nonreturnable deposit (copies, phonorecords, or identifying material), and nonrefundable filing fee should be mailed in the same package.
What Happens If the Three Elements Are Not Received Together
Applications and fees received without appropriate copies, phonorecords, or identifying material will not be processed and will ordinarily be returned. Unpublished deposits without applications or fees will ordinarily be returned, also. In most cases, published deposits received without applications and fees can be immediately transferred to the collections of the Library of Congress. This practice is in accordance with section 408 of the law which provides that the published deposit required for the collections of the Library of Congress may be used for registration only if the deposit is "accompanied by the prescribed application and fee...."
After the deposit is received and transferred to another department of the Library for its collections or other disposition, it is no longer available to the Copyright Office. If you wish to register the work, you must deposit additional copies or phonorecords with your application and fee.
Do not send cash. A fee sent to the Copyright Office should be in the form of a money order, check, or bank draft payable to the Register of Copyrights; it should be securely attached to the application. A remittance from outside the United States should be payable in U.S. dollars and should be in the form of an international money order or a draft drawn on a U.S. bank. Do not send a check drawn on a foreign bank.
Effective Date of Registration
A copyright registration is effective on the date of receipt in the Copyright Office receives all of the required elements in acceptable form, regardless of how long it then takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration. The time the Copyright Office requires to process an application varies, depending on the amount of material the Office is receiving and the personnel available. It must also be kept in mind that it may take a number of days for mailed material to reach the Copyright Office and for the certificate of registration to reach the recipient after being mailed by the Copyright Office.
If you are filing an application for copyright registration in the Copyright Office, you will not receive an acknowledgement that your application has been received, but you can expect:
If you want to know when the Copyright Office receives your material, you should send it by registered or certified mail and request a return receipt from the post office. Allow at least 3 weeks for the return of your receipt.
Search of Copyright Office Records
The records of the Copyright Office are open for inspection and searching by the public. Moreover, on request, the Copyright Office will search its records at the statutory rate of $20 for each hour or fraction of an hour. For information on searching the Office records concerning the copyright status or ownership of a work, request Circulars 22 and 23.
This circular attempts to answer some of the questions that are frequently asked about copyright. For a list of other material published by the Copyright Office, request Circular 2, "Publications on Copyright." Any requests for Copyright Office publications or special questions relating to copyright problems not mentioned in this circular should be addressed to the Copyright Office, LM 455, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20559. To speak to a Copyright Information Specialist, call 202-479-0700.
The Copyright Office is not permitted to give legal advice. If you need information or guidance on matters such as disputes over the ownership of a copyright, suits against possible infringers, the procedure for getting a work published, or the method of obtaining royalty payments, it may be necessary to consult an attorney.