INFORMATION & RESOURCES FOR FREE EXPRESSION
Intellectual Property and Free Speech in the Online World (a report about online service providers and takedown notices)
The Copyright Clause of the Constitution authorizes Congress to create copyright protection for "limited times". In the U.S. today, a work stays under copyright until 70 years after the author's death (sometimes called "life + 70"), or, in the case of copyrights held by corporations, for 95 years.
Congress has lengthened copyright terms considerably from their original 14 years. As recently as 1975, copyright terms were 28 years with an option to renew for 28 more. In 1976, Congress set the term to life plus 50 years, and in 1998, it passed the "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act" (or "CTEA"), expanding the term to life plus 70. Around the world, most copyright terms are life plus 50 or life plus 70, with many different terms for "works for hire" owned by corporations.
With each extension, Congress expanded the copyright term for new works, and also adjusted the terms for existing works.
Any work published before 1923 is in the public domain under U.S. copyright law. Works published since 1923 should be examined to see if they are still copyrighted.
Once a work enters the public domain, copyright law imposes no restrictions on its use.