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News Release — January 28, 2003

Copyright & Archives: Law Professor R. Anthony Reese Speaks

The Ransom Center is pleased to welcome R. Anthony Reese to talk about the recently effected law regarding copyright extensions and the inclusion of certain unregistered and unpublished materials in the public domain.

Under the 1909 Copyright Act, works that were neither published nor registered did not enjoy statutory protection, although they were protected under common law in perpetuity as long as they remained unpublished and unregistered. But under section 303 of the 1976 Copyright Act, works that were created but neither published nor registered in the Copyright Office before January 1, 1978, lost their common law protection and acquired a statutory term of protection that was the life of the author plus 50 years, amended in 1998 (as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act) to life plus 70 years.

As a result of the 1976 Copyright Act, any of the works in question whose author had died over 50 years prior to 1978 would have entered the public domain after December 31, 1977. To provide a reasonable term of copyright protection for these works, and in light of the fact that these works had enjoyed perpetual protection under common law, Congress extended their term by at least 25 more years. Congress also encouraged publication by providing an additional 25 more years, extended in 1998 to 45 more years, of protection if the work was published on or before December 31, 2002.

Professor Reese will talk about the details of the statute and its implications for institutions such as the Ransom Center which have archival holdings.

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