Copyright Renewal Act of 1992

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Copyright Renewal Act of 1992, enacted June 26, is an act of the United States Congress, enacted to reverse the longstanding requirement under US law that a second term of copyright protection is contingent on a renewal registration with the Library of Congress.[1]

It amended the 1976 Copyright Act.

Works affected by the 1992 amendment[edit]

Works copyrighted between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 are affected by the 1992 Amendment. Renewal registration for these works was made optional by this amendment, and a second term was automatically secured.

The renewal System prior to the 1992 amendment[edit]

Under the 1909 copyright, works copyrighted in the United States before January 1, 1978, were subject to a renewal system in which the term of copyright was divided into two consecutive terms.[2] Strict time limits were imposed on Renewal registration to secure the second term and extending copyright to the maximum length. The current copyright law (title 17 of the United States Code) came into effect on January 1, 1978 and retained the renewal system for works that were copyrighted before 1978 and were still in their first terms on January 1, 1978. The statute, for these works, provides for a first term of copyright protection lasting 28 years, with the possibility for a second term of 47 years. This earlier system is also referred to as an "opt-in" system since authors would have to take the necessary steps required to claim the second term.[3]

The 1992 amending legislation secures this second term for works copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977 without a renewal registration requirement. However, if a copyright originally secured before January 1, 1964, was not renewed at the proper time, protection would have expired at the end of the 28th calendar year of the copyright.Under the 1909 copyright, works copyrighted in the United States before January 1, 1978, were subject to a renewal system in which the term of copyright was divided into two consecutive terms.[2] Strict time limits were imposed on Renewal registration to secure the second term and extending copyright to the maximum length.

The current copyright law (title 17 of the United States Code) came into effect on January 1, 1978 and retained the renewal system for works that were copyrighted before 1978 and were still in their first terms on January 1, 1978. The statute, for these works, provides for a first term of copyright protection lasting 28 years, with the possibility for a second term of 47 years. However, twenty more years were added to the second term for works copyrighted between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977 by Public Law 105-298. This made the total duration of copyright for these works 95 years.

Effect of the 1992 amendment[edit]

The 1992 amending legislation (Public Law 102-307) secures the second term for works copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977 without a renewal registration requirement. This system is also referred to as an "opt-out" system because it provides for copyright protection even if it is not requested by the author of a work. However, if a copyright originally secured before January 1, 1964, was not renewed at the proper time, protection would have expired at the end of the 28th calendar year of the copyright.

Benefits of filing copyright renewal application[edit]

The copyright office does not issue a renewal certificate, even though renewal is secured automatically, unless the renewal application and fees are received and registered at the Copyright Office. The Copyright Office outlines the following benefits of filing a Copyright Renewal Application:

  1. The renewal copyright is established in the name of the renewal claimant on the effective day of renewal registration. If the renewal registration was not made in the 28th year, the renewal copyright is secured by the party entitled to claim renewal by December 31st of the 28th year.
  2. The Copyright Office issues a renewal certificate which acts as prima facie evidence of the validity of copyright during renewal and extended term.
  3. The right to use Derivate Work in the extended might be impacted by renewal registration.

However, in cases where no renewal registration was made, important benefits such as statutory damages and attorneys fees can still be secured by filing a renewal registration anytime during the renewal term.

Filing period[edit]

An application for renewal of copyright can be made at anytime during the renewed and extended term of 67 years for works copyrighted between January 1, 1964 and December 31, 1977.

Eligibility to claim renewal[edit]

The law specifies the persons who are eligible to claim Renewal Copyright. Apart from anonymous works, the following are eligible to claim renewal:

  1. The author, if living
  2. The widow or widower of the author or the children or both, if the author is dead.
  3. If there are no immediate family members, and there is a will, then the author’s executors can claim renewal.
  4. If there is no immediate family or will, the next of kin may claim the copyright.

A copyright proprietor or owner may claim renewal in only the following cases:

  1. Posthumous work
  2. Periodical, cyclopedic, or composite work
  3. Work copyrighted by a corporate entity
  4. Work made for hire.

Music industry implications[edit]

Many critics viewed the Copyright Renewal Act of 1992, which was backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, as an attempt to prevent many songs from falling into the public domain because of procedural difficulties and mismanagement.[4] In the past several authors had lost considerable royalties on their works because they were not aware of the renewal procedure, this act aimed to prohibit such instances from occurring.[5]

A Billboard magazine article[5] mentions the complaint of Jacqueline Byrd, widow of Robert Byrd, the songwriter who wrote “Little Bitty Pretty One”, the 1957 hit. Mrs. Byrd was informed by the Copyright Office that they had not received the renewal application for the song, and hence they would be ending royalty payments. Had the song been renewed, Byrd and her four children would’ve received payments till 2037. This incident was used to convince lawmakers about the need for such an amendment.

Reaction against the 1992 amendment[edit]

In 2007, four plaintiffs, the Internet Archive, its founder, Prelinger Archives, and its founder, filed a suit against the US Government for changing the copyright system in the Ninth Circuit (See Kahle v. Gonzales). The Internet Archive is a partner in the Million Book Project, a venture that aimed to scan over a million books to make it available to the public on the Internet.[6] The plaintiffs argued that there are several cases where it’s impossible to locate the authors. These orphan works could be used to contribute to projects that utilized public domain works. However, the 1992 amendment, by removing the renewal requirement of these works, prevented such works from falling into the public domain.

After hearing the appeals, the Ninth Circuit rejected the plaintiffs’ appeal on January 22, 2007 saying that they essentially made the same arguments made in the Eldred case which was rejected by the Supreme Court.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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