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

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102.7 Timeline of Selected Historical Dates in U.S. Copyright Law


102.7 Timeline of Selected Historical Dates in U.S. Copyright Law

The United States has a long and rich history of copyright law. Below is a timeline of some of the most interesting developments that have occurred since the colonial era. In addition to this timeline, the U.S. Copyright Office’s website includes a wealth of historical information, including additional notable dates, extensive information on past copyright laws, and prior publications.


• August 18, 1787: James Madison submits to the framers of the Constitution a provision “to secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time.”


• June 23, 1789: First federal bill relating to copyrights (H.R.10) presented to the first Congress.


• May 31, 1790: Congress enacts the first federal copyright law, “An act for encouragement of learning by securing copies of maps, charts, and books to the authors and proprietors of such copies during the times therein mentioned.” This law provided for a term of fourteen years with the option of renewing the registration for another fourteen-year term. The law only applied to books, maps, and charts. It also noted that a copyright should be registered in the U.S. district court where the author or proprietor resided (not the U.S. Copyright Office, which had not yet been created).


• April 29, 1802: Congress adds prints to works protected by copyright law.


• February 3, 1831: First general revision of the copyright law. Music added to works protected against unauthorized printing and vending. First term of copyright extended to twenty-eight years with the option of renewal for another fourteen-year term.


• August 18, 1856: Congress passes a supplementary law to protect dramatic compositions.


• December 31, 1864: President Abraham Lincoln appoints Ainsworth Rand Spofford to be the sixth Librarian of Congress. Spofford served as the de facto Register of Copyrights until the formal position of Register was created in 1897.


• March 3, 1865: Congress enacts “An Act to amend the several Acts respecting Copyright,” which added protections for photographs and photographic negatives.


• July 8, 1870: In this second major revision of copyright law, Congress centralized copyright activities (including registration and deposit) in the Library of Congress. The law added “works of art” to the list of protected works and reserved to authors the right to create certain derivative works, including translations and dramatizations.


• March 3, 1891: With the passage of the International Copyright Act, Congress extended copyright protection to certain works by foreign authors. This was the first U.S. copyright law authorizing establishment of copyright relations with foreign countries.


• July 1891: The Catalog of Copyright Entries, which includes records of registered works, is published in book form for the first time.


• 1895: Congress mandates that U.S. government works are not subject to copyright protection.


• January 6, 1897: Congress enacts a law to protect music against unauthorized public performance.


• February 19, 1897: The U.S. Copyright Office is established as a separate department of the Library of Congress. Position of Register of Copyrights created.


• July 1, 1909: Effective date of third general revision of the copyright law. Certain classes of unpublished works now eligible for registration. Term of statutory protection for a work copyrighted in published form measured from the date of publication of the work. Renewal term extended from fourteen to twenty-eight years.


• August 24, 1912: Motion pictures, previously allowed to be registered only as a series of still photographs, added as a class of protected works.


• July 13, 1914: President Woodrow Wilson proclaims U.S. adherence to the Buenos Aires Copyright Convention of 1910, which established copyright protection between the United States and certain Latin American nations.


• July 1, 1940: Effective date of transfer of jurisdiction for the registration of commercial prints and labels from the U.S. Patent Office to the U.S. Copyright Office.


• July 30, 1947: The copyright law codified as Title 17 of the U.S. Code.


• January 1, 1953: Recording and performing rights extended to nondramatic literary works.


• September 16, 1955: United States becomes party to the 1952 Universal Copyright Convention as revised in Geneva, Switzerland.


• September 19, 1962: First of nine special acts extending terms of subsisting renewal copyrights pending congressional action on general copyright law revision.


• February 15, 1972: Effective date of the act extending limited copyright protection to sound recordings fixed and first published on or after this date.


• March 10, 1974: United States becomes a member of the Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms.


• July 10, 1974: United States becomes party to the 1971 revision of the Universal Copyright Convention as revised at Paris, France.


• October 19, 1976: Fourth general revision of the copyright law signed by President Gerald Ford. This extensive revision included numerous provisions that modernized copyright law, as described in Section 102.2 (A) above.


• January 1, 1978: Effective date of principal provisions of the 1976 copyright law.


• December 12, 1980: Copyright law amended to address computer programs.


• May 24, 1982: Section 506 (A) amended to provide that persons who infringe copyright willfully and for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain shall be subject to criminal penalties.


• October 4, 1984: Effective date of Record Rental Amendments of 1984, which granted the owner of copyright in a sound recording the right to authorize or prohibit the rental, lease, or lending of phonorecords for direct or indirect commercial purposes.


• November 8, 1984: Federal statutory protection for mask works became available under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act, with the U.S. Copyright Office assuming administrative responsibility. The Office began registering claims in mask works on January 7, 1985.


• June 30, 1986: Expiration of the manufacturing clause of the Copyright Act of 1976, which required that certain types of works be typeset, printed, and bound in the United States. For more information about the manufacturing clause under the 1909 Act, see Chapter 2100 of this Compendium.


• March 1, 1989: The effective date of United States adherence to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, as revised in Paris, France in 1971.


• December 1, 1990: Copyright protection extended to architectural works. Section 106A added to copyright law by the Visual Artists Rights Act, which allows authors of certain types of visual works of art certain moral rights of attribution and integrity.


• December 1, 1990: Effective date of the Computer Software Rental Amendments Act. Grants the owner of copyright in computer programs the exclusive right to


authorize or prohibit the rental, lease, or lending of a program for direct or indirect commercial purposes.


• June 26, 1992: Renewal registration becomes optional on a prospective basis. Any work in its twenty-eighth year of copyright protection no longer requires a renewal application with the U.S. Copyright Office in order for the copyright to extend into and through the renewal term. As such, all works initially copyrighted between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 were renewed automatically, even if the party entitled to claim the renewal copyright failed to file a timely renewal with the Office.


• October 28, 1992: Effective date of the Audio Home Recording Act. The Act requires the placement of serial copy management systems in digital audio recorders and imposes royalties on the sale of digital audio recording devices and media that are distributed to the copyright owners.


• December 17, 1993: Copyright Royalty Tribunal Reform Act of 1993 eliminates the existing Copyright Royalty Tribunal and replaces it with ad hoc Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panels administered by the Librarian of Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office.


• December 8, 1994: The Uruguay Round Agreements Act restores copyright to certain foreign works under protection in the source country but in the public domain in the United States. It also repeals the sunset of the Software Rental Amendments Act and creates legal measures to prohibit the unauthorized fixation and trafficking in sound recordings of live musical performances and music videos.


• November 16, 1997: The No Electronic Theft (NET) Act defines “financial gain” in relation to copyright infringement and sets penalties for willfully infringing a copyright either for the purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain or by reproducing or distributing (including by electronic means) phonorecords of a certain value.


• October 27, 1998: The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extends the term of copyright for most works by twenty years.


• October 28, 1998: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (“DMCA”) adds several major provisions to the Copyright Act. It provides for the implementation of the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) Copyright Treaty (“WCT”) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (“WPPT”), by adding prohibitions against circumventing technological measures protecting copyrighted works and removing or altering copyright management information. It also creates the Section 512 safe harbors from liability for internet service providers; provides an exemption in Section 117 of the Act permitting the temporary reproduction of computer programs made in the course of maintenance or repair; clarifies the policy role of the U.S. Copyright Office; and creates a new form of protection for vessel designs.


• November 2, 2002: The Technology, Education, and Copyright Harmonization (“TEACH”) Act provides for the use of copyrighted works by accredited nonprofit educational institutions in distance education.


• November 30, 2004: The Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act phases out the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel system and replaces it with the Copyright Royalty Board.


• April 27, 2005: The Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act (“ART Act”) allows for preregistration of certain works being prepared for commercial distribution.


• October 13, 2008: The Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (“PRO-IP Act”) is enacted. Among other things, the PRO-IP Act established the new government position of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, codified case law regarding the effect of inaccurate information knowingly included in an application for copyright registration, and prohibited the export and import of infringing copies of works that are or would be protected under the U.S. Copyright Act.


• October 09, 2018: The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act was signed into law on this date. By amending Section 121 and adding a new Section 121A to the Copyright Act, this law implemented obligations of this treaty into U.S. law, and allowed the United States to join the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (2013), with an effective date of treaty membership being May 8, 2019. U.S. membership in the treaty came into force on May 8, 2019.


• October 11, 2018: The Orrin G. Hatch – Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) is enacted. This bipartisan and unanimously enacted legislation created a blanket licensing system for digital music providers, extended federal copyright infringement remedies to sound recordings fixed before February 15, 1972, and codified a process wherein sound recording royalties can be distributed directly to producers under a “letter of direction.”


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