Friday, December 6, 2013

Searching the Copyright Renewal Database

Dear Rich: A friend of mine's husband had a book published in 1962 (listed as copyright 1962). He later reprinted a new edition of it in 1975 himself. When he died the rights were assigned to his wife. In looking at reprinting it again, I find that the Hathi Trust at U. of Michigan is making it available on their website as being in the public domain. I assume this is because they did not see a renewal for a second 23 years on the govt. copyright renewal website and assumed it fell into public domain. The thing is, his wife feels sure he did renew the book for a second 23 years, which would bring it to 1977 and thus be extended. However she is not able to find any paperwork on it. So I suppose my question is how complete is the Copyright extension database as accessed on the web? I know its possible they are missing one or two records, but is it known if there are gaps in their records? And is there a better way to make sure it was/was not renewed other than the web search? You're correct that the work would have to have been renewed for protection to continue but as one reader pointed out, you're looking at the wrong year for renewal information. A work that's published with notice in 1962 would have to be renewed in 1990, and if it was renewed, would then receive another 47 years of protection.
Renewal information. You're correct that not all renewal information migrated to the online database. As the folks at the Stanford Library explain, some of the renewal information was slow to move from the Copyright Office print card catalog into the searchable database. (You can read more about the card catalog here.) Stanford sought to correct that with its alternative renewal search system for books. Check that out as well as Rutger's database, and the University of Pennsylvania's online attempt to organize copyright renewal records by year. The most thorough (and expensive) way to verify renewal information is to hire someone to perform a copyright search. You can hire the Copyright Office for $165 an hour, or you can hire a private company to perform the card catalogue search.


  1. This is tangential to the main point of the post -- the information for researching copyright renewal is great and useful -- but I'm confused by the correspondent's discussion of this particular publication. Even if the author self-published a new edition in 1975, wouldn't the original copyright still need to be renewed in the 28th year of the original publication, aka 1990? (I'm not sure where the 23 year copyright term comes from in the question.) So, it seems to me that the correspondent is looking in the wrong year for the renewal.

  2. Renewal must occur in the 27th year, and all copyright records (registrations and renewals) since 1978 are available in the Copyright Office's online database. The resources you describe are useful for pre-1978 records. As you suggest, the surest solution would be to pay to have a copyright search conducted, but if the renewal is not in the Copyright Office's database, it is extremely unlikely that the work was renewed.