Does copyright protection last forever?

Glenn W. Peterson

As a California copyright holder, you have the right to prevent others from using your work without your permission. However, you may not be aware of how long your copyright protection will endure. Copyrights do not last forever, nor are they intended to.

According to FindLaw, the span of time that you can expect your copyright protection to endure depends on your work’s date of creation and/or publication. Since the span of copyright protection is often based partly on the date of the creator’s death, it also depends on how long you live.

Copyright law makes a distinction between the creation of a work and its publication. When a work becomes fixed in its tangible form for the first time, that is its date of creation. The date that a work becomes available for distribution and consumption by a wider audience is its date of publication. Sometimes the publication of a work occurs fairly soon after its creation, whereas in other circumstances, publication of a work may not happen until years or even decades later.

According to the current law, the copyright on works created on or before Dec. 31, 2002, will not expire before Dec. 31, 2047. Otherwise, there is a basic formula for determining the term of copyright. The copyright on works by a single creator endures for 70 years after the creator’s death, in addition to the creator’s entire lifespan, or 70 years from the death of the last surviving creator in cases of collaboration between two or more creators who did not work for hire.

Copyright protection endures for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter, in cases of works made for hire or in cases in which the creator’s identity remains unknown because he or she published under a pseudonym or anonymously.

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.