Monday, September 12, 2016

Protecting Your Work Through Copyright

Something copyrighted today by an author who dies in 30 years, won’t expire until 2116.  It didn’t always used to be this way, where a copyrighted book would be protected for the author’s full life plus 70 years from the date of his or her death.  Back as recently as 1963 a work could be protected for up to 95 years from its date of creation, provided it was renewed in its 28th year. Prior to 1923, there were no copyright protections like the ones enjoyed today.

A good book, The Writer’s Legal Guide, summarizes the copyright history in the United States by stating the following:

“The copyright law of the United Sates grew out of the Statute of Anne.  Between 1783 and 1789, Noah Webster successfully helped lobby twelve of the original thirteen states to recognize copyright, but complained about having to travel to each state to register, because there was no legislative reciprocity among the Confederation of States.  He urged the new Republic in 1789 to pass federal copyright protection.  The U.S. Constitution provided that “The Congress shall have the power…To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  In crafting the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison expressed ambivalence about the concept of a private monopoly over ideas and inventions.  Their decision to include copyright rested on the “limited time” and private, as opposed to government, ownership of such monopolies.

"In 1790, Congress enacted the first federal copyright statute, providing protection for books, maps, and charts for an initial term of fourteen years plus a renewal term of fourteen years, mirroring the term in the Statute of Anne.  The renewal term only arose if the copyright owner took affirmative steps to file a renewal registration.  Because most works did not retain entered the public domain.  In 1831, Congress increased the initial term of copyright to twenty-eight years, plus a fourteen-year renewal term.  In 1865, the law was amended to cover photographs and negatives.  In 1870, it added coverage for paintings, drawings, sculptures, and models or designs of works of fine arts.  In 1909, Congress completely revised the copyright law and expanded the exclusive rights granted to authors.  The initial term of copyright remained twenty-eight years, but the renewal term was increased to twenty-eight years.  For the first time, the right to make derivative works such as translations and abridgements was recognized as an exclusive right of the author.”

"The 1909 Act as interpreted by the courts favored publishers’ interests over those of authors.  For example, the various rights to exploit a copyright were deemed indivisible, so an author’s grant of publication rights had the effect of transferring the entire copyright to the publisher.  The courts also thwarted Congress’s intent to allow the original author to enjoy the longer renewal term by enforcing agreements made during the original term to license away the renewal term, if one arose.

"The inventions of radio, television, motion pictures, satellites, software, and other innovations eventually required a complete revision of the 1909 Act, and the new Copyright Act of 1976 was passed as of January 1, 1978.  Although subsequent amendments, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, have tried to address the pressures of globalization and the development of new ways to make, copy, and deliver creative works, technology continues to outrun the law.  Judicial interpretations of the Act, especially from the Second and Ninth Circuits and the Supreme Court, have had to try to fill the gaps in the law that fail to address the realities of the Information Age, with varying degrees of success.”

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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