copyright question

A. Joseph Ross
Fri Mar 26 01:23:05 EDT 2010

On 26 Mar 2010 at 0:42, Garrett Wollman wrote:

> <<On Thu, 25 Mar 2010 18:53:11 -0700 (PDT), Martin Waters
> <> said:
> > Also, regarding one of the points Joe Ross made: I have a hazy
> > pseudo-recollection that before the big changes in the copyright
> > laws that he mentioned, material was not automatically copyrighted
> > by virtue of being created. In other words, is a top-30 list from,
> > let's say, the 1960s, even copyrighted, if it wasn't registered in
> > Washington and doesn't say copyright on it?

Under the 1909 copyright law, which applied until 1 January 1978, a 
work published with a copyright notice was protected by copyright.  
It didn't have to be registered.  But until the late-1980s revision 
for the Berne Convention, it had to be registered to be renewed and 
the renewal had to be registered, to renew the copyright for a second 
term.  The initial term was 28 years.  Under pre-1976 law (most of 
whose provisions took effect on 1 January 1978), the renewal term was 
for another 28 years.  Under the 1976 law, the renewal term was 47 
years, for a total of 75.

> Your recollection is correct, Marty.  If it was first "published" (in
> the technical sense understood by copyright lawyers, which does not
> seem to include all the things you or I might consider publication)
> prior to 1977, and did not have a valid copyright notice attached,
> then it is in the public domain.  Note that this does not apply to
> many kinds of non-textual works, nor to any unpublished works, which
> (prior to the Copyright Act of 1976) were covered by a hodge-podge of
> state copyright laws.  "Unpublished" works now have a near-perpetual
> (125-year) copyright, so no unpublished works created after 1885 are
> in the public domain yet.  I haven't seen the surveys in question, but
> I have seen numerous other surveys and similar ephemera, and don't
> recall ever seeing one with a copyright notice.

I have three WCOP survey sheets from 1958-59.  They all have 
copyright notices in the name of Plough Broadcasting Corporation.

> If the surveys do have a copyright notice, then I'd fall back on what
> Joe said -- the copyright probably wasn't registered, or if it was, it
> is extremely unlikely that it was renewed.  Nonrenewal (of a
> sufficiently-old work to have required renewal) puts the work in the
> public domain.  To be sure, one would want to pay a lawyer to grovel
> over the Copyright Office's files (on the fourth floor of the Madison
> Building at the Libary of Congress in Washington).

There is also the Catalog of Copyright Entries, a regular book 
published by the Copyright Office, a copy of which can be found in 
the Boston Public Library.  I had occasion to research a copyright 
back in the early 1970s, but not since.  I suspect the copyright 
entries are now on a CD-ROM or something, or perhaps even online.

A survey sheet from 1958 would have required renewal in 1987.  Since 
yesterday I looked it up and found that the Berne Convention 
Implementation Act of 1988 took effect on 1 March 1989, so that would 
be the date on which renewals became automatic.
A. Joseph Ross, J.D.                           617.367.0468
 92 State Street, Suite 700                   Fax 617.507.7856
Boston, MA 02109-2004           

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