How long does a copyright last?

Copyrights protect individuals from having their work used by others without permission. The copyrighted work must be fixed in a tangible medium and be original. California residents who have intellectual property protected by a copyright may wonder how long the copyright lasts. It lasts for the creator’s lifetime plus a period after their death.

The work is protected from copyright infringement from the time of creation, whether or not it was published or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. If the work was created after 1978, the copyright lasts for a creator’s lifetime plus 70 years. Co-authored works last for the lifetime of both authors. If one author predeceases the other, the copyright lasts for the lifetime of the remaining author plus 70 years. The copyright for hired work will last for 95 years from the date that it was published or 120 years from the date that it was created. Works created before 1978 have copyright protection until at least Dec. 31, 2002. If the work was published before 2002, the copyright is extended until the end of 2047.

Copyrights are considered personal property, and they may be transferred to another person or to a company. The transfer, governed by applicable state laws, may be accomplished by contract or stipulated in a will, and recording the transfer may be beneficial. An author wishing to reacquire a copyright may be able to terminate the transfer in some cases.

Each case is different, and the information offered in this piece should only be used for education purposes. However, an attorney may be able to help a person learn about his or her rights to intellectual property. In order to protect one’s intellectual property, an attorney may assist in the registration of a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. If a copyright is infringed upon, the attorney may assist in helping an individual protect their rights.

Source: United States Copyright Office, “Copyright Basics“, September 19, 2014