by Jeffrey and Todd Brabec

On June 26, 1992, a law was passed which drastically changed the renewal provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law with respect to musical compositions initially copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977.

In effect, the new law made the need for actually filing a formal renewal application in the U.S. Copyright office to extend copyright protection optional since such protection would be given automatically whether or not an application was sent in.

The Old Law: Under the 1976 Copyright Revision Act, the copyright term in a pre-1978 musical composition mirrored the provisions of the 1909 Copyright Law in that the initial period of protection was 28 years. There was established, however, an additional 47-year renewal term (vs. the prior 28 year renewal period), which would become effective only if a renewal application was filed in the U.S. Copyright Office prior to the end of the twenty-eighth year. This 47-year period was subsequently extended to 67 years by Congress.

Under the old law, if a renewal application was not registered in the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright protection in the musical composition was lost at the end of the twenty-eighth year and the composition went into the public domain.

Because of many instances of copyright owners inadvertently failing to register timely renewal claims and the resultant loss of protection and benefits (which, in some cases, amounted to the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of future income), it was considered to be in the best interests of all parties involved to guarantee continuing protection without any formal action on the part of the songwriter, music publisher, or any other copyright owner.

The New Law: In effect, the new law made entitlement to an additional 67 years of protection after the initial 28 years automatic, thus guaranteeing a 95-year copyright term for 1964-77 copyrighted compositions regardless of whether or not a renewal application was sent in.

These renewal provisions do not apply to any musical compositions written on or after January 1, 1978, since copyright protection for such compositions lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years or, in the case of a work made for hire, the shorter of 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation.

Additionally, pre-1964 compositions that had been lost to the public domain owing to a failure to renew their copyrights were not affected by the new law.

Even though the filing of a formal renewal registration is now unnecessary to secure copyright protection for a full 95 years (i.e., 28 years plus 67 years), there still remain certain advantages to filing.

For example, having a formal renewal registration filed in the U.S. Copyright Office will constitute prima facie evidence of the validity of not only the information contained in the renewal certificate but of the copyright itself—a factor which can be very important in a court of law in the event of a copyright dispute. If there is litigation, the burden of proof will be on the party disputing the validity of the copyright to a musical composition and not on the creator of the composition.

© 2005 Jeff Brabec, Todd Brabec

This article is based on information contained in the new, revised paperback edition of the book "Music, Money, And Success: The Insider's Guide To Making Money In The Music Industry" written by Jeffrey Brabec and Todd Brabec (Published by Schirmer Trade Books/Music Sales).