Postage Due Stamp

U.S. Copyright and the Public Domain

Site Map
Oct. to Dec. News
Archived News
Q & A Forum
Calendar
Directions
Links
Exhibits

 

 

Home Search Contact Us

 

A Question for Postcard.org

 

When Do Postcard Copyrights Pass into the Public Domain

in the United States?

 

 

This response is based on Laura N. Gasaway’s chart, "WHEN WORKS PASS INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN," at http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm , "COPYRIGHT TERM FOR ARCHIVISTS," at http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm, the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress' "COPYRIGHT AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS WHICH APPLY TO PUBLICATION AND OTHER FORMS OF DISTRIBUTION OF IMAGES: SOURCES FOR INFORMATION" at  http://lcweb.loc.gov/rr/print/195_copr.html, Peter B. Hirtle, "Recent Changes To The Copyright Law: Copyright Term Extension," Archival Outlook, January/February 1999; updated on 15 January 2003, and Marie C. Malaro, A Legal Primer On Managing Museum Collections (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998): 155-156.

 

See also U.S. Copyright Office's PDF on Copyright

 

This chart gives general reference guidelines.  Please consult an attorney for answers to specific copyright questions.

 

PUBLISHED WORKS

 

Time of Publication in U.S.

 

Conditions

 

Public Domain Status

 

Before 1923

 

None

 

In public domain 

 

 

Between 1923 and 1978

 

Published without a copyright notice

 

 

In public domain 

 

Between 1978 and 1 March 1989

 

Published without notice, and without subsequent registration

 

 

In public domain

 

Between 1978 and 1 March 1989

 

Published without notice, but with subsequent registration

 

70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation

 

 

Between 1923 and 1963

 

Published with notice but copyright was not renewed

 

 

In public domain

 

Between 1923 and 1963

 

Published with notice and the copyright was renewed

 

 

95 years after publication date

 

But fewer than 15% of all registered copyrights of this time period were actually renewed

 

 

Between 1964 and 1978

 

Published with notice

 

70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation

 

 

Between 1978 and 1 March 1989

 

Published with notice

 

70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation

 

 

After 1 March 1989

 

None

 

70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, the shorter of 95 years from publication, or 120 years from creation

 

 

 

 

UNPUBLISHED WORKS

 

Type of Work

 

Copyright Term

 

What is in the Public Domain effective 1.January 2003 in the U.S.?

 

Unpublished works

 

Life of the author + 70 years

 

Works from authors who died before 1933.

 

 

Unpublished anonymous and pseudonymous works, and works made for hire (corporate authorship)

 

 

120 years from date of creation

 

Works created before 1883.

 

Unpublished works created before 1978 that are published before 1 January 2003

 

Life of the author + 70 years or 31 December 2047, whichever is greater

 

 

Nothing.  The earliest that the publications can enter the public domain is 1 January 2048.

 

Unpublished works created before 1978 that are published after 31 December 2002

 

 

Life of the author + 70 years

 

Works of authors who died before 1933.

 

Unpublished works when the death date of the author is not known

 

 

120 years from date of creation5

 

Works created before 1883.

 

 

More...

 

 

A guide to investigating the copyright and renewal status of published work is Samuel Demas and Jennie L. Brogdon, "Determining Copyright Status for Preservation and Access: Defining Reasonable Effort," Library Resources and Technical Services 41:4 (October, 1997): 323-334.

 

 

A 1961 Copyright Office study found that fewer than 15% of all registered copyrights were renewed. For textual material (including books), the figure was even lower: 7%.

 

 

These works may still be copyrighted, but certification from the Copyright Office is a complete defense to any action for infringement.

 

 

Presumption as to the author's death requires a certified report from the Copyright Office that its records disclose nothing to indicate that the author of the work is living or died less than seventy years before.

 

 

 

Back Home Next

 

Last updated: 11/06/2013 03:45:35 PM -0500
 

Jack Daley, Webmaster

webmaster at postcard.org

Please send postcard questions to Question at postcard.org or go to our Q&A  Forum