|Copyright Act of 1976|
|Full title: An Act for the general revision of the Copyright Law, title 17 of the United States Code, and for other purposes.|
|Enacted by the: 94th Congress|
|Effective Date: January 1, 1978|
|Public Law: Pub. L. 94-553|
|U.S. Statutes at Large: 90 Stat. 2541 (1976)|
|Act(s) amended: Copyright Act of 1909|
|Title(s) amended: 17 (Copyright)|
|United States Code sections created: 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810|
|United States Code sections substantially amended: 44 U.S.C. §§ 505 & 2113; 18 U.S.C. § 2318|
|Digital Millennium Copyright Act; Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act|
The Copyright Act of 1976 is a piece of United States copyright legislation and remains the primary basis of copyright law in the United States, as amended by several later enacted copyright provisions. The Act spells out the basic rights of copyright holders, codified the doctrine of "fair use," and for most new copyrights adopted a unitary term based on the date of the author's death rather than the prior scheme of fixed initial and renewal terms. It became Public Law number 94-553 on October 19, 1976 and went into effect on January 1, 1978.
Aside from advances in technology, the other main impetus behind the adoption of the 1976 Act was the development of and the United States' participation in the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) (and its anticipated participation in the Berne Convention). While the U.S. became a party to the UCC in 1955, the machinery of government was slow to update U.S. copyright law to conform to the Convention's standards. In the years following the United States' adoption of the UCC, Congress commissioned multiple studies on a general revision of copyright law, culminating in a published report in 1961. A draft of the bill was introduced in both the House and Senate in 1964, but the original version of the Act was revised multiple times between 1964 and 1976 (see House report number 94-1476). The bill was passed as S. 22 of the 94th Congress by a vote of 97-0 in the Senate on February 19, 1976. S. 22 was passed by a vote of 316-7 in the House of Representatives on September 22, 1976. The final version was adopted into law as title 17 of the United States Code on October 19, 1976 when Gerald R. Ford signed it. The law went into effect on January 1, 1978.
At the time, the law was considered to be a fair compromise between publishers' and authors' rights. Barbaro Ringer, the U.S. Register of Copyrights, called the new law "a balanced compromise that comes down on the authors' and creators' side in almost every instance." The law was almost exclusively discussed in publishers' and librarians' journals, and with the exception of a half page article in Time, was not discussed in mainstream publications at all. The claimed advantage of the law's extension of the term of subsisting copyrights was that "royalties will be paid to widows and heirs for an extra 19 years for such about-to-expire copyrights as those on Sherword Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio . . . ." The other intent of the extension was to protect authors' rights "for life plus 50 years—the most common term internationally and the one Twain fought for in his lifetime." Further extensions of both term and scope have been desired by some, as foreshadowed by the contemporary quote made by James Fitzpatrick, a Recording Industry Association of America copyright lawyer, in response to a question about whether his workload would decrease with the passage of the bill, "It's clear, that I'll continue to be occupied."
The 1976 Act, through its terms, preempts all previous copyright law in the United States. The preempted law includes prior federal legislation, such as the Copyright Act of 1909, but also includes all relevant common law and state copyright laws insofar as they conflict with the Act.
An eighth category, architectural works, was added in 1990.
The wording of section 102 is significant mainly because it effectuated a major change in the mode of United States copyright protection. Under the last major statutory revision to U.S. copyright law, the Copyright Act of 1909, federal statutory copyright protection attached to original works only when those works were 1) published and 2) had a notice of copyright affixed. State copyright law governed protection for unpublished works before the adoption of the 1976 Act, but published works, whether containing a notice of copyright or not, were governed exclusively by federal law. If no notice of copyright was affixed to a work and the work was, in fact, "published" in a legal sense, the 1909 Act provided no copyright protection and the work became part of the public domain. Under the 1976 Act, however, section 102 says that copyright protection extends to original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Thus, the 1976 Act broadened the scope of federal statutory copyright protection from "published" works to works that are "fixed."
The Act was amended in 1995 to include a sixth exclusive right—the right to perform a sound recording by means of digital audio.
The Act was later amended to extend the fair use defense to unpublished works.
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