Sociology Index

United States Copyright Law

The copyright law of the United States is intended to encourage the creation of art and culture by rewarding authors and artists with a set of exclusive rights. "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." The Copyright Act of 1976, is currently the basis of copyright law in the United States governing the legally enforceable rights of creative and artistic works. Things not covered by copyright law may be covered under other forms of Intellectual Property Rights.

The Copyright Act of 1790 secured an author the exclusive right to publish and vend "maps, charts and books" for a term of 14 years, with the right of renewal for one additional 14 year term if the author was still alive. The Copyright Act of 1790 did not regulate other kinds of writings, such as musical compositions or newspapers. The Copyright Act of 1790 did not prohibit copying the works of foreign authors. The copyright term within the United States was extended by the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act which made the copyright term (for works created after 1977) the life of the author plus 70 years, or 95 years for a work of corporate authorship.

When challenged in court in Eldred v. Ashcroft (2003), the Supreme Court agreed that the length of the copyright term could be extended by Congress after the original act of creation and beginning of the copyright term, as long as the extension itself was limited instead of perpetual.

Important laws that impacted U.S. copyrights:

Under Copyright Act of 1790 copyright was with term of 14 years with 14-year renewal.

Under Copyright Act of 1909 copyright term extended to 28 years with 28-year renewal.

Under Copyright Act of 1976 copyright term extended to either 75 years or life of author plus 50 years, eliminated renewal option and registration requirement

Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1988 established copyrights of U.S. works in Berne Convention countries

Uruguay Round Agreements Act of 1994 restored U.S. copyright for certain foreign works

Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 - extended terms to 95/120 years or life plus 70 years.

Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 - criminalized some cases of copyright infringement.

Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 criminalized more cases of copyright infringement, permitted technology to "sanitize" works.

Statutory provisions relating to copyright currently in effect are codified in Title 17 of the United States Code.

Important international agreements affecting U.S. copyright law include:

Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works - The United States became a Berne Convention signatory in 1988.

Agreement on TRIPS - Ahreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.