Expiration of copywrite on printed matter

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Thu Nov 9 08:01:26 CST 2000

For those who may still be interested in this matter, the following are the
copyright duration for USA. That is, if you are operating in the USA, these
are dates that you need to adhere to.

1) If published 75 years or more, then it is in the Public Domain
2) If published before 1 Jan 1964, but less than 75 years ago, then
          a) if of foreign origin, then protected for 75 years from
          b) if not, then protected for 28 years from publication date or
registration date IF
                    aa) not renewed, then it is in Public Domain
                    bb) renewed, then it is protected for 75 years from
publication date

Recent works which fall under the new Copyright Law (ie. published or
created after 1 Jan 1978)
     are protected for the life of the creator (or the last surviving
creators among multiple creators)
           plus 50 years  UNLESS
     the work was "Works-made-for-hire" (you did if for your company, etc.)
then it is 100 years from
           creation OR 75 years from date of publication, which ever is

Obviously, one needs to understand these dates ONLY if they are going to
re-publish works that may be copyrighted.  American scientists enjoy a
"Fair-Use" provision which allow them to use any copyrighted work for their

Also, while it may take a little time I have found that when one finds the
appropriate person (and that is the difficult, time-consuming part) that all
publishers/copyright holders I have asked have been very happy to grant me a
limited (one-time) non-comerical, scientific use only release/license.

Which isn't unusual when one understands, that while one may violate
(infringe upon) someone's copyright, the legal penalties/damages that the
copyright holder may collect are dependent on the court's determination of
the ECONOMIC harm done!  So, taking a pretty picture from a book and placing
on a coffee mug for sale is a lot difference that placing in a scientific
book which doesn't return a profit!

For more information, I recommend the following sources:

Malaro, M. C. 1998. A legal primer on managing museum collections. 2nd ed.
Smithsonian, Washington. (this is good for lots of other legal issues too!)

Fishman, S. 1997. The copyright handbook. How to protect and use written
works. Nolo Press, Berkeley.

Elias, S. 1997. Patent, Copyright and Trademark. Nolo Press, Berkeley.

F. Christian Thompson
Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS, USDA
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560-0169
(202) 382-1800 voice
(202) 786-9422 FAX
cthompso at sel.barc.usda.gov
visit our Diptera site at www.diptera.org

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