The following is a guest post by Erik Bertin, deputy director of registration policy and practice.
Today is an important milestone in U.S. copyright law. It is the last possible day for serving a notice of termination under section 304(d) of the Copyright Act, which governs some older works.
Authors or their heirs may use this provision to terminate a grant involving certain types of works. Specifically, section 304(d) may be used to reclaim the copyright in a work that was registered or published with notice between January 1, 1923, and October 26, 1939.
Under the prior copyright law, the copyright in a work lasted for 28 years, and if the copyright was renewed at the end of this period, it remained in effect for another 28 years. When Congress enacted the current copyright law, it maintained this renewal system for works that were copyrighted before 1978. Congress also extended the length of the copyright term to 75 years – consisting of an initial term of 28 years and a renewal term of 47 years.
In 1998 Congress further amended the copyright law by adding another 20 years to the copyright term for works copyrighted before January 1, 1978. The copyright term for these works is 95 years, consisting of an initial term of 28 years and a renewal term of 67 years.
At the same time, Congress created a new procedure that allows an author or his or her heirs to reclaim the last 20 years of the renewal term. This procedure is set forth under section 304(d) of the Copyright Act, and it only applies to works published or registered between January 1, 1923, and October 26, 1939.
Briefly stated, the author or the author’s heirs must serve a “notice of termination” on the grantee or the grantee’s successor in title, and must record a copy of that notice with the Copyright Office. The notice must be served and recorded in a timely manner.
For example, a grant involving a work published or registered on October 26, 1939, may be terminated between October 26, 2014, and October 26, 2019. To do so, the author or the author’s heirs must serve a notice of termination on the grantee at least two years before the termination goes into effect.
In other words, the period for terminating a grant involving a work published or registered on October 26, 1939, ends two years from today’s date. That means today is the last possible date for serving a notice of termination involving such works.
For more information about notices of termination and section 304(d) of the Copyright Act, see Chapter 2300, Section 2310 of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, Third Edition.