How Long Is a Book Copyright in Force?

by Brenna Davis
Very old books may no longer have copyright protection.

Very old books may no longer have copyright protection.

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Any tangible, creative item may be copyrighted, and this includes most books. Others may not use the book except for uses that fall under the "fair use" exception: quoting a limited number of lines for educational, review or scholarly purposes. The laws governing how long a copyright lasts depend on when the book was published. Books published since 1978 do not require a copyright symbol or registration with the U.S. Copyright Office to receive copyright protection.

Publication Before 1963

All books published prior to 1923 are now considered public domain. Items in the public domain are no longer copyrighted and may be used for a variety of purposes. Books published prior to 1963 must be published with a copyright notice to obtain copyright protection. The copyrights to these books expire after 28 years, but copyrights can be renewed for an additional 67 years. Copyrights must be registered to sue for copyright violation. It's important to note that a translation or alteration of an item originally published prior to 1923 might still be copyrighted.

Published Before 1977

Books published between 1964 and 1977 must be published with a copyright notice to receive copyright protection. A 1992 amendment to U.S. copyright laws makes renewal for the second copyright term of these items automatic. Thus copyrights for these items last for a total of 95 years. To sue for copyright violation, copyrights to these items must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Published After 1978

Items published after 1978 require neither copyright notice nor copyright registration to receive copyright protection. The copyrights for these items last for the life of the author plus 70 years. If there are two authors, the rights last according to the lifespan of the longest-living author.

Special Circumstances

Items created prior to 1978 receive copyright protection even if not published, and the protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years or until December 31, 2002, whichever is greater. Items that were unpublished but created prior to 1978, but that were published prior to 2002, receive copyright protection for the life of the author plus 70 years, or until December 31, 2047, whichever is greater. Items published under a pseudonym or anonymously receive copyright protection for 95 years from the date of creation or 120 years from the date of publication, whichever is greater.