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Renewing a Copyright

You are a business owner or entrepreneur who took the steps needed to register your intellectual property (IP) known as copyright. You may wonder, “Do I need to renew my copyright registration?"

Copyright protects original works of authorship in fixed tangible mediums for a certain duration of time. Examples of covered works include:

  • Literary works
  • Sound recordings
  • Dramatic works
  • Audiovisual works
  • Architectural works
  • Visual and graphic works

Copyrights give the creator of the work exclusive rights over the use of the work. These rights include displaying, reproducing, distributing, performing the job, and creating derivative works.

These works can be used if there is authorization to do so by the copyright holder. For example, the other party obtains a copyright license or an assignment. If someone performs any of these rights without authorization, the copyright owner may pursue a copyright infringement case against the person.

Copyright does not protect the work indefinitely. If the copyright owner wishes for an extended period of protection, they can renew the copyright for an additional time.

Process for Copyright Renewal

The rules for copyright renewal vary depending on when the work was originally copyrighted. Copyright renewals are required for works published before January 1, 1978, to upkeep copyright protection. For works created after that date, renewal is not necessary.

If you choose to register your copyright renewal, a few facts will be helpful to know:

  • Only the author or, if the author is dead, their heirs can claim copyright renewal.
  • If the deceased author leaves no spouse or children during the initial copyright term, then the executor of the author's will can claim copyright renewal.
  • If the author has no will, then the author's next of kin can make a renewal claim.
  • To file a renewal application, you must use Form RE provided by the U.S. Copyright Office and pay a renewal fee of $125.
  • Renewal registration is effective when the U.S. Copyright Office receives all required documents.
  • The time it takes to process the application and mail the certificate of registration is irrelevant to the effective date of the renewal.

Checking Copyright Renewal Records

You can search the copyright renewal records to determine if a renewal is necessary for your copyright registration. The copyright renewal records are at the Copyright Public Records Portal.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

In the United States, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years after the author's death. For creative works created for hire or anonymous works, copyright protection lasts 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the year of creation. Whichever event occurs first or is shorter determines the length.

Notice of Renewal of Copyright

Under current U.S. law, a notice of copyright is no longer required for a copyright to be valid.

However, copyright notices are beneficial for several reasons. For instance, it can prevent a defendant in a copyright infringement case from successfully claiming an "innocent infringement defense." If a copyright is renewed, no laws address whether the notice of copyright must be updated to reflect the renewal. However, a statement that includes the fact that the copyright has been renewed is more accurate and informative.

Here is an example of an original copyright notice and a notice of a copyright renewal: Copyright 1977 FindLaw and Copyright Renewed 2006 by FindLaw.

Fair Use and Copyrights in the Public Domain

Fair use is an exception to copyright law. Fair use gives limited public use of copyrighted works without the owner's permission. Owner consent is unnecessary, for these copyrighted pieces can be used without the owner's consent.

The fair use doctrine balances the rights of copyright owners and the rights of the public to copyrighted works for:

  • Commentary
  • Criticism
  • News reporting
  • Teaching
  • Scholarship

After copyright protection expires, the creative work enters the public domain. This also has no restrictions on use.

IP Protections and FAQs Small Businesses Need to Know

There are four types of intellectual property rights:

A trade secret protects confidential business information that gives companies a competitive edge. Trade secrets include processes, formulas, designs, techniques, and customer lists. An example of a trade secret is the formula for Coca-Cola.

A trademark protects names, company names, logos, symbols, designs, or combinations. Trademark protection usually lasts ten years and then requires renewal if you still use the mark. A fifth-year declaration of use is also required in the first ten years.

A patent protects novel and non-obvious inventions or discoveries. There are three different types of patent protection:

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) handles all things patent and trademark-related, such as:

Getting Copyright Renewal Legal Advice

Whether you are filing for your initial copyright, looking to give someone a copyright license, or registering a copyright renewal for your existing copyright, a local intellectual property attorney can help guide you through the process. Putting their expertise to work for you can help guarantee your future success.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified business attorney to help you identify how to best protect your business' intellectual property.

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