How long does a copyright protection last?


This answer pertains to United States Copyright Law only, and does not constitute legal counsel.

The length of copyright protection depends on:

  • when the work was created
  • when the work was published, and/or registered
  • who created the work

The table below lists copyright duration based on these factors.

Scenario Duration

Works created before January 1, 1978

(protected under the 1909 Copyright Act)

Note: Under the 1909 Copyright Act, copyright protection begins with first publication of the work and lasts for a period of 28 years, renewable for an additional term of 28 years, for a total term of protection of 56 years. In 1976, Congress extended the renewal term to 47 years, increasing the total possible term of protection to 75 years.  In 1998, Congress again extended the renewal term by an additional 20 years, for total possible term of protection of 95 years from publication.

works created by individual authors on or after January 1, 1978 70 years after the author's death
work prepared by two or more authors ("joint work") 70 years after the last surviving author's death
works made for hire/ anonymous and pseudonymous works 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter
Works created but not published or registered by January 1, 1978
70 years after the author’s death (or at least through December 31, 2002)
Works published on or before December 31, 2002
Through December 31, 2047

When the term of protection for a copyrighted work expires, the work enters into the public domain.

For more information, please contact the Access Services Desk at or call us at (915) 747-5672.


  • Last Updated Sep 22, 2023
  • Views 357
  • Answered By Research & Instruction Librarians

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