How to Find a Copyright Date

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On June 9, 1790, "The Philadelphia Spelling Book," by John Barry became the first copyright registered under a new federal law enacted two weeks earlier on May 31 by the first Congressional congress. Copyright dates hold interest for those researching scholarly, artistic or professional works; but are also helpful in discovering the expiration date of a particular copyright to avoid legal concerns. Several avenues are available for tracking down copyright dates.

Search for works registered and documents recorded after Jan. 1, 1978, on the U.S. Copyright Office website. (See Reference 2). This site provides records of registered books, art, music, magazines and newspapers, and other works. The information includes copyright ownership documents. Search by registrant name, title, keyword or registration or document number.

Find works registered prior to 1978 by visiting the Copyright Public Records Reading Room at the U.S. Copyright Office, located in the Library of Congress, James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C., near the Capitol South Metro stop. Public hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except federal holidays. (See Reference 1).

Hire a U.S. Copyright Office researcher. Upon request, a staff member will search copyright records for an hourly fee with a two-hour minimum. Call 202-707-3002 and speak with a research specialist about a particular project.

Look for the copyright date of a book on the title page. Publishing information usually appears on one of the first pages of most English-language books. If the copyright date is not included with this information, contact the publisher and ask directly.

Scan the cover of a magazine for the publication and copyright date. Newspapers typically place the copyright date on the masthead along with other editorial information.

Glance at the packaging of a VHS tape or DVD, where the copyright date often appears within the small print and sometimes as Roman numerals. On record albums, CDs and cassettes look directly on the label. If the information is not there, check out the first or last pages of the liner notes.



About the Author

Nikki Jardin began freelance writing in 2009 and focuses on food and travel articles. She has been a professional cook and caterer for more than 20 years. She holds a degree in environmental science from Humboldt State University.

Photo Credits

  • black copyright symbol image by Angie Chauvin from