A Word to the Wise on Copyright Extension

January 2004
by Lloyd L. Rich

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Lloyd RichLloyd Rich is an attorney practicing publishing and intellectual property law. He can be reached at 303-388-0291 or rich@sni.net. Holly Panetta, a third-year student at the University of Denver School of Law, provided the research for this article.


Many publishers and authors have different opinions about the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (CTEA), which increased the term of copyright protection in the United States by 20 years. If you are a publisher and/or an author, you need to understand how it came to be and how it affects you.

Specific issues to keep in mind include:

How important are public domain works?Should the term of copyright protection once again be extended when the 20-year extension nears its end? If copyright protection is extended should the extension apply to then-existing works or only to future works? Should the term of copyright protection be reduced?

Raising and Re-raising the Limit

The Copyright Clause (Article 1, Section 8) of the United States Constitution gives authors exclusive rights to their work for “limited times” before those works lose their copyright protection and enter the public domain. Once the term of copyright protection expires, anyone may use a public domain work without obtaining permission from the copyright owner.

Historically, Congress has determined the meaning of the phrase “limited times.” In the first copyright statute, enacted in 1790, the term limit of copyright protection was 14 years with the possibility of one renewal extension for an additional 14 years; renewal could occur only if the author was still alive at the end of the initial 14-year term. Subsequently, Congress extended the copyright term on…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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