Congress extends copyright protection


Law gives authors and creators 20additional years of profits





WASHINGTON, D.C. —The owners of copyrights will now have an additional 20 years to claim protection of their works under a new law enacted this fall.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, named after its legislative sponsor, the late Republican House member from California and former entertainer, amends section 301 of the Copyright Act. The amendment extends copyright protection to 70 years beyond the life of the author for works with individual authors and the shorter of 95 years after creation or 120 years after publication for “works made for hire.” The duration of copyright protection had been 50 years, 75 years and 100 years respectively.

When a copyrighted work like a novel, song, cartoon character or film loses its copyright protection it enters the public domain. Works that are in the public domain can then be copied and distributed by anyone without payment to or permission from the original author or copyright holder.

The legislation was pushed forward by an extensive lobbying campaign from the entertainment industry led by the powerful Walt Disney Co. Disney was set to lose its copyright protection on Mickey Mouse and other popular and lucrative characters beginning in 2003.

The extension provides American authors and creators of other copyrighted works similar protections to those that exist in Europe. The European Union extended its copyright protection to similar time periods in 1995.

Despite the change, an exemption to the 20-year extension could apply to the student media. Libraries, archives and nonprofit educational institutions will not be limited in their use of works during the 20-year extension period if the copying and distribution is done for scholarship, preservation or research. However, this exemption only applies to works that are not subject to normal “exploitation” and can not be obtained at a reasonable price such as works that are out of print and hard to obtain. Popular works that are still being produced or sold by their copyright owners, such as the Disney characters, for example, will receive the extra 20 years of protection.


reports, Winter 1998-99