Extension of US Copyright Duration Effects

If the pre-1978 U.S. Copyright Act was still in effect, copyright-protected works from 1953 would have entered the public domain on January 1, 2010. Current U.S. law protects works for 70 years from the date of the author’s death, but prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for an additional 28 years). Copyright-protected works from 1953 include Casino Royale, Marilyn Monroe’s Playboy cover, The Adventures of Augie March, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, Crick & Watson’s Nature article decoding the double helix, Disney’s Peter Pan, and The Crucible. See: www.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/pre1976.

The leading copyright convention, the Berne Convention (www.wipo.org) requires a minimum copyright protection of life-plus-50 — the duration that currently exists in the Canadian Copyright Act.


  1. I have never been able to understand the argument for exending copyright beyond life of author plus 50 years. I understand the interests of corporate owners of the few copyrights that are still valuable after that much time – and indeed US law provides a very long term for a work of ‘corporate authorship’ – 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever comes first.

    I cannot imagine creators of content working any harder or more creatively because their great-grandchildren will benefit from the continuing value of the product, rather than just their grandchildren. And that assumes slow generations or old creators. Someone who creates a work at 50 (when the kids are perhaps 20 years old) and who dies at 75 may already have great-grandchildren at that point, and 50 years later we are talking about the great-great-grandchildren.

    Given how rare it is that a work will have value after that much time, and how much of a nuisance it is for someone to track down the rights holders (possibly for a use that does not create commercial value but nevertheless would be an infringement rather than fair dealing), it seems to me that an extension makes no policy sense.

    Why is it important to harmonize with the US or the EU on such a matter?