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How long does copyright protection last?

California residents who are interested in copywriting a work may have questions about the duration of protection. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, differences exist based on the date the work was created. If the work represents a collaboration, further rules apply.

Copyrighted works created after Jan. 1, 1978, are protected for 70 years plus the author's lifetime. Creation means the work was newly placed in a tangible format. If the author uses a pseudonym, or if the work is considered anonymous, the copyright lasts for 95 years after publication or 120 years after creation. If the author's name is listed at the copyright office, anonymity in this context does not apply. This holds for works done as an employee or contract worker, although the employer is the holder of copyright. Collaborators are protected by copyright for the life of the last living author plus 70 years.

Works created before the cutoff date that have been registered or published were originally protected for 28 years with the caveat that renewal was needed. A series of laws starting in 1976 extended the duration of protection granted by renewal. In 1992, a new law granted automatic renewal for copyrights obtained between Jan. 1, 1964, and Dec. 31, 1977. This means the copyrighted work is protected for 95 years. In addition, works created before 1978 but not copyrighted are covered under the same parameters as those created after 1978.

There are reasons to protect a created work with copyright, including guaranteeing the sole ability to change it or reproduce the work, as well as giving the author sole control over distribution. It also makes it possible to claim copyright infringement.

An attorney may provide insight into obtaining a copyright. The attorney may also assist in filing a lawsuit if infringement occurs.

Source: FindLaw, 'Top 10 Reasons You Should Register Your Copyright," 2014

Source: United States Copyright Office, "Copyright Basics", November 12, 2014

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