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Your Copyrights Can Expire. But When?


Let’s say that you create a picture, design, play, book, or piece of artwork—something that is eligible for copyright protection. You register for, and get copyright protection. The rights that come with that copyright protection are yours, and you can leave it to your heirs forever…or can you?

Why Copyrights Expire

Actually copyrights do in fact expire over a period of time. But why do they expire?

The logic behind expiring copyrights is that after a period of time, there should be the ability for someone in the general public to expand on a work, or make new works from that work—things that can’t be done while a copyright is still valid.

Additionally, the law recognizes that while you should be able to profit from a copyright, it may not be fair for generations after you to profit from a copyright, when they didn’t actually create the work.

When Does a Copyright Expire?

Figuring out when a copyright expires can be challenging because the laws often change, and the law as to when a copyright expires, largely depends on when the copyrighted work was created.

For works that were created from 1909-1921, copyright protection lasted 28 years, but that could be renewed for another 28 years, so long as the renewal happened before the expiration of the original copyright. That gave the owner 56 total years to enjoy complete ownership and control of the creative work.

As time went on, the law changed. For any copyrighted works between 1922-1963, the copyright still lasted 28 years, but if the work was renewed before its expiration, an additional 67 years was provided. Many works registered during this time period still have their copyright protection.

In 1978, the entire structure of copyright expiration changed. For works created in 1978 or later, the protections would last for the entire life of the copyright owner, plus an additional 70 years after the owner’s passing.

The new law also differentiated between works created by the creator, and work for hire works. When a work was work for hire, the protection lasted 95 years from the first publication of the work or 120 years from when the work was actually created, whichever is shorter.

Disney Loses Valuable Copyright

There is almost no escaping the loss of copyright expiration. In fact, Disney is now facing the loss of some valuable copyrights, including the rights to the character Winnie the Pooh, and his friends. However, the copyright expiration only applies to the depiction of the characters that appeared in the 1928 book—not the Disney depictions.

Still, the expiration gives other creators the right to freely use the Winnie the Pooh name, and likenesses that are similar to those that appeared in the book.

Call the West Palm Beach business litigation attorneys at Pike & Lustig today for any intellectual property copyright questions or concerns that you may have.

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