Compendium of U.S. Copyright Practices, 3rd Edition

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102.2 (A) Copyright Act of 1976


102.2 (A) Copyright Act of 1976

The 1976 Act replaced the 1909 Copyright Act and changed much of how copyright law operates, including as follows:


• The 1976 Act implemented a new calculus for determining the duration of copyright (known as the “term of protection” or, more simply, the “term”). Previously, works were protected for a specific initial term and could be renewed for an additional renewal term. The 1976 Act does not require renewal. In most cases, the Act provides protection to works based on the time frame of the author’s life plus seventy years. 17 U.S.C. § 302 (A). In the case of an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright lasts for a term of ninety-five years from the year of its first publication, or a term of one hundred twenty years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. 17 U.S.C. § 302 (C).


• Unlike prior U.S. copyright laws, copyright protection under the 1976 Act is not contingent on publication or registration. All copyrightable works are now protected from the moment of fixation in a tangible medium of expression, regardless of whether they are published, registered, or recorded at any time. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (A).


• The 1976 Act (in Sections 203, 304 (C), and 304 (D)) allows an author to terminate certain grants of copyright in the author’s work after a specified number of years. The 1909 Act, by contrast, gave the author an opportunity to recoup his or her rights by vesting the copyright in the renewal term in the author, meaning that the author had to provide a separate grant expressly to a publisher or other third party for the renewal term (i.e., after the first twenty-eight years).


• The 1976 Act added protections for certain additional types of works, including pantomime and choreography. 17 U.S.C. § 102 (A) (4). Since 1976, the statute has been amended to provide copyright protection for architectural works and certain protection for mask works and vessel designs.


• Congress added numerous exceptions and limitations to the statute (currently set forth in Sections 107 through 122 of the Act), including Sections 107 (which codified the judicially-created fair use doctrine) and 108 (which created specific exceptions for libraries and archives).


Congress has updated the 1976 Act several times. For more information concerning these amendments, see the historical timeline in Section 102.7 below.


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