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Copyright Act of 1976

Copyright Act of 1976

The Copyright Act of 1976 is
the primary statute on the books concerning American copyright law as of the
early 21st Century. Before its passage, the last major overhaul of copyright
law by Congress had occurred in 1909. It went into effect on January 1, 1978.

The drafting of the Copyright
Act of 1976 addressed concerns about the rights of authors, changing forms of
technological transmission of media and the applicability of fair use doctrines
to copyright laws. The passage of the law overturned previous American
practices in copyright law, such as the Act of 1909, and also takes precedence
over the differing provisions of State copyright law, as they may occur,
throughout the United States.

Observers of the field of
American copyright law received the law at the time of its passage as a largely
effective means of guaranteeing the rights of the creator of the work in
relation to prospective publishers or distributors of the work.

The Copyright Act of 1976 greatly increased the period of time in
which the rights of authors could be maintained under copyright law. Up to that
time authors were guaranteed the ability to enjoy copyright protection for at
least twenty-eight years with the possibility of another twenty-eight years of

The new copyright law which
went into effect in 1978 allowed for works registered after that time to be
guaranteed for the entirety of the author’s lifespan and for a period of time
lasting another fifty years. In the event that works were published without a
known or acknowledged author, the Act provided for a period of protection
lasting seventy-five years.

Another new addition to the body of law by the Copyright Act of
1976 was the clarification of the kinds of materials to be given Federal
statutory protection, which was engineered to widely include most artistic
materials, excluding architectural plans, which were provided for by a new
provision made in 1990. The operative term for the broadening of definitions
under copyright law was of “works of authorship,” which could be
understood as discrete and original imaginative creations.

In another measure for broadening
the protections offered by copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1976 held that
registration of a work was not a prerequisite for holding the rights of
authorship, but specified that the pursuit of legal action would require the
existence of documentation in regard to a copyright. In order to increase the
ease of use of copyrights, the Copyright Act of 1976 also defined procedures
for a copyright holder to effectively transfer rights to another individual.

In the interests of guaranteeing the wide availability of
informational and imaginative work, a priority for American copyright law since
its formation under the Constitution, the Copyright Act of 1976 also allowed
for the applicability of “fair use” doctrines. These provide
exceptions to the rights of copyright holders in cases where the use of their
works was not held to be infringing on the basic concerns of copyright
protection, such as sole access to commercial benefits.