A copyright protects the author of a book, either fiction or non-fiction, from unauthorized republication of the work. A copyright starts when a book is created, and it is protected once a copyright is registered, normally when it is published and made available to the general public. An unpublished work also can be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. The copyright covers only the original and creative work, not the ideas on which the work is based nor any facts in the book, even if the author researched them.
As a general rule, copyright for works published after Jan. 1, 1978, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. If a book has multiple authors, the 70 years begins at the death of the last author. For books published anonymously or under a pseudonym or as work done for hire, the copyright term is 95 years from the date of first publication or 120 years from the book's first creation, whichever expires first.
All works published in the United States before 1923 are now in the public domain, meaning they have no copyright protection. Books published between 1922 and 1978 are copyrighted for 95 years from the date of publication. The publication date is when an author makes a book available to the general public on an unrestricted basis, meaning it can be bought or sold openly without restrictions.
Coverage Until 2019
Books published between 1964 and 1978 were once required to renew copyrights. But in 1998 Congress passed a law that prevents any books from entering the public domain until 2019, without renewal. Books published in 1923 will lose copyright that year, and that process will continue in succeeding years for works published up to 1977.
Old Rules, New Copyrights
Originally, copyrights were for 28 years but could be renewed for another 28. A new law in 1976 extended that term to 47 years. The 1998 law superseded that and created the new terms.
Revised editions of books qualify for new copyrights. A book first published in 1977, but revised and republished with new information in 2011, qualifies for a new copyright starting in 2011.
Read More: How to Buy Copyrights
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.