When Do Copyrights Expire?

June 1996
by Ivan Hoffman
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Ivan HoffmanIvan Hoffman (photo right) is a publishing, copyright, Internet law, recording, and music attorney as well as a published writer and author. He practices in the Los Angeles area. You may reach him at ivan@ivanhoffman.com or 818/342-1762.


The question frequently arises as to when a copyright goes into the public domain so that the material may be freely copied. The answer is not a simple, straightforward one since there have been a number of changes to the United States Copyright law that have made the answer depend upon when the work was originally published or registered.

In this regard, it is initially important to note that a copyright that was originally taken out or published in another nation may have a different expiration date than one originally taken out or published in the United States. And works that originally were published in the United States but which may have been translated in other nations may have yet another copyright date on the different versions.

And so one preliminary question to be answered is “When was the work published?” This is the definition of “publication” under the law:

“‘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.”

Thus, once a work has been published, the time period for the duration of its copyright protection begins, although under the old copyright law, some works could be copyrighted before…IBPA Members – Click here to view the full article (login required).

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