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Copyright Act: Home

This guide is to help law students who are researching the Copyright Act through the identification of primary and secondary sources of law

Starting Out- Research Guides

Copyright Law Defined

Section 101 of Title 17 of the U.S. Code provides various definitions relevant to copyright law in the U.S. However, in looking to define aspects of this law, it is also important to consider how agencies, such as the U.S. Copyright Office, define terms.

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Copyright Law: 1909-Today

What is the importance?

The 1909 Act is still relevant for works whose source country is the U.S. and that have gone into the public domain under the 1909 Act and the origial provisions of the 1976 Act remain in the public domain. It is important that researchers consult with the provisions of the 1909 Act, the 1976 Act as originally enacted, and subsequent amendments to the 1976 Act to be able to determine which piece of legislation is applicable.

1909-1988

From 1909 to 1976, the 1909 Copyright Act was the copyright law of the U.S. but it had its flaws. One failure of the 1909 Act was it precluded the U.S. from joining the Berne Convnetion. Another was at times the law was unclear. Thus the 1976 Act made innovative changes in copyright law in addition to clarifying certain aspects of the 1909 Act. Amendments were made to the Act post-Berne Convention of 1988 that have further retooled the Copyright Act to the realites of global commerce.

Chart - Year Copyright Term Began

1988-2000

Further Amendments were made to the 1976 Copyright Act in 1990 (17 U.S.C. § 106A, 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(8), 17 U.S.C. § 109(b), 17 U.S.C. § 511). Legislation appeared in 1992 that made copyright renewals more automatic, the fair use doctrine was clarified for unpubslihed works, new criminal penalities for copyright infringement were imposed, and special provisions were added to the Copyright Act to deal with home audio taping using digital media. 

The 1993 Amendments replaced the jukebox compulsory license with §116A as well as creating CARPs (17 U.S.C. § 801-803). In 1994, under GATT and URAA, Congress rewrote 17 U.S.C. § 104A to restore copyright in works whose source country is a member of the World Trade Organization or the Berne Convention. Chapter 11 was also added this year (17 U.S.C. §1101). 

In 1995, Congress enacted the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act which created an exclusive right under 17 U.S.C. § 106. In 1996, Congress added a new 17 U.S.C. §121 to the Copyright Act and in 1997 Congress enacted a number of amendments via the "technical corrections" bill. One alteration was adding 17 U.S.C. § 303. That same year also saw the No Electronic Theft Act or NET which amended the criminal copyright infringement provisions of Titles 17 and 18.

In 1998 included some significant legislative changes including extending the duration of copyright protection. The Digital Millennium Copyrgiht Act (DMCA) was also passed this year and codified Chapter 12 of the Copyright Act.

2000-Today

In 2002, Congress passed the Technology, Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH) which broadened the infringement exemption of 17 U.S.C. §110(2). In 2004, the Copyright Royalty and Distribution Act replaced CARP with CRJs, i.e. the Copyright Royalty Board, and amended the terms of the §119. In 2005, Congress passed the Family Entertaiment and Copyright Act of 2005 which extended criminal penalities and provided criminal sanctions as well as creating an exemption from copyright liability for skipping audio and video content in motion pictures.

In 2008 Congress passed the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellecutal Property Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110-434, 122 Stat. 4972 (2008)) and enacted legislation concerning the negotaitions of music royalties and protection of vessel hulls (Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-435, 122 Stat. 4974 (2008); Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-36 (2009)). 

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