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What is a copyright?

A copyright is the protection given by the United States government to authors and artists of literary and artistic works. This protection gives them the exclusive right to reproduce, display and perform the work and to make derivative works. Copyrights are handled by the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

What can be copyrighted?

Types of items which can be copyrighted are:
books, poems, short stories, computer software, songs, works of art, which include: photographs, sculptures, paintings, and graphic works, plays, sound recordings, motion pictures, maps, periodicals and like subjects.

What cannot be copyrighted?

Titles, names, slogans and phrases cannot be copyrighted.

Other items that cannot be protected by copyrights are: ideas, methods, procedures and common knowledge such as a calendar. If the work has not been fixed in a tangible form, it cannot be copyrighted.

How long does copyright protection last?

If the work was copyrighted after January 1, 1978, the copyright lasts the author's lifetime plus fifty years. There is NO renewal.

If the work was copyrighted before January 1, 1978, it had a first term of 28 years. When the copyright was renewed it was extended another 28 years. Through many acts of Congress and Presidents and finally the Copyright Law of 1976, the renewal period was lengthened to 47 years, if the copyright was in effect on January 1, 1978. This gives the work 75 years of copyright protection.

How do you register a copyright?

Under common law, a work is protected as soon as it is created in a tangible form. But, it is still to the creator's advantage to actually register the work with the Copyright Office. Registration consists of 3 items which must be sent to the Register of Copyrights. These are:

  1. Completed application form
  2. Fee of $30
  3. Copies of the work

What is available in Los Angeles Public Library's Science, Technology and Patents Department?

Los Angeles Public Library has the Catalog of Copyright Entries, which is a publication of the Copyright Office which gives the barest information concerning a registered copyright. The Catalog, published every six months, has a separate volume for each subject. For example, artistic works are in one volume, while books are in another. The information given in the Catalog is: the title of the work, the author's name, the owner of the copyright, the copyright date and number. Holdings are through 1982 only. More current information may be accessed online through Internet.

Patrons may request an online search by staff for an entry that was included in the Copyright Office records from January 1, 1978 through the present. Please allow at least a twenty-four hour response time to an inquiry.

Anyone wishing to, may conduct online searches by using his/her own computer. To connect, go to:

What can't be found in Science, Technology and Patents Department?

One cannot actually see what has been copyrighted. There are no pictures or descriptions in the Catalog. So, if a person has written a book or painted a picture, he/she cannot make sure that it has not been protected by someone else. However, as long as the work is original to that person, application can be sent to the Register of Copyrights. One cannot find a listing of works that have fallen into the public domain.

If one is interested in knowing about a specific copyright, such as who owns the copyright at the present time or the original date, one can contact the Copyright Office. Their staff will do searches for $50 an hour.