copyright act of 1976
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The Copyright Act Of 1976: A Summary

| August 16, 2022

A provision that prevents the imitation of your original work- an interesting concept, isn’t it?

The Copyright Act of 1976 came into effect on the 1st of January, 1978. It serves as the pioneer and foundation of Copyright Law in the United States protecting works of original authorship. 

The Act has brought about major changes to the genre of copyright. 

It has- 

  • spelled out the elementary rights of copyright holders
  • Introduced and codified the policy of “fair use”
  • Introduced a new concept to the “term of copyright”

Let us delve into the provisions in detail. 

A Brief History Of The Act

A Brief History Of The Act

The last recorded update to the Copyright laws of the US was in 1909. The intellectual property sphere had made considerable progress since then. Apart from literary works, motion pictures, radio, television, and sound recordings were now in the picture. 

The participation of the US in the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC), held in Geneva, was a turning point. Gradually, the Register of Copyrights in the US began the formulation of the current Act.  

A plethora of Congress-commissioned studies was conducted, which led to the publication of a detailed report(1961) on the revisions of the currently existing copyright laws. The bill was then introduced in both houses of Congress as well as the Senate. The authority approved the final version was finally introduced under Title 17 of the United States Code. 

The law came into effect in 1978 and was considered to be a fair compromise between the author’s and the creator’s sides.

Purpose and Flagbearers of the Act 

Before 1976, there was no specific Act to understand the statutory copyright law in the US. Congress came up with this Act as a future safeguard against any form of copyright infringement. The 1970s were at their peak when it came to technological advancements. Be it television or motion pictures, the copyright issues in this particular aspect couldn’t be covered in the Act of 1909. 

Other than that, Barbara Ringer who coined the overall Copyright Act of 1976, actively took up the role of drafting the new copyright act. After coining the Copyright Act of 1976, Barbara Ringer became the US Registrar of Copyrights in 1973. She even started advocating for the rights of the author with new technological advances. 

The UCC also played a major role in forming this Act. The active participation of UCC was recognized even in the Berne Convention. The US later became a party to UCC later at 1955. Over here, Congress passed a public law 743 to adhere to the standards of the conventions. 

What are Termination Rights in Copyright? 

This Act, codified the writers and other artists to properly license their works. If not, they can face termination. Its main purpose of adding this part to the Act to to renegotiate licenses later on to leverage the value of the original works. Even if it was not apparent during creation, this renegotiation of the license will help in evaluating the worth of the work. 

The termination clause came into being in the year 1978 and does not apply to other works in the hire. Your attorney has to create a notice for at least 2 years prior to the 35-year date given. This gives the holder the right to prepare properly. 

Impact of Termination Rights in Copyright

Even though the termination right in copyright came into being in 1978, it finally started getting implemented in 2013. As a result it even created a notable media sensation when Victor Willis wrote a song on terminating rights for The Village People. Subsequently, it turned up a notable lawsuit called Scorpio Music v. Wills. As a result, the court hence ruled in favor of Willis.

Other than that, in this case, the songwriters started seeking termination rights. This event impacted the film industry as well which became extremely prevalent during the start of the 1980s.

Provisions Of Significance

Provisions Of Significance

So, what does the federal copyright act of 1976 specify?

The law declares any previously existing laws on Copyright in the United States to be null and void if they stand in direct violation of the provisions of this Act. The most commonly applicable sections include-

Section 102: Subject Matter Of The Act

Section 102 Subject Matter Of The Act

This section defines the areas of creation to which the Act is applicable. It states that the work should be:

a) an original work of authorship, and 
b) recorded in a tangible means of expression. 

The term, “works of authorship” should include the following:

1. Literary Works

Literary work may include dissertations, textbooks, poems, novels, catalogs, magazines, etc.

Some of the popular infringement cases include

  • Warner Bros. v. RDR Books( Harry Potter Universe) 
  • Dr. Suess Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA(The Cat is Not in The Hat)

2. Music Works(And Accompanying Words)

There is composition copyright and sound recording copyright. Lyrics that are not self-published fall under composition copyright. Some of the most popular music copyright infringement cases include

  • Dua Lipa v. Artikal Sound System( Soundtrack: Levitating)
  • BTS & Big Hit Entertainment (HYBE) v. Bryan Kahn

3. Dramatic Works(And Accompanying Music)

The purview of dramatic works may include but is not limited to 

  • operas, 
  • ballets, 
  • screenplays, and plays. 

4. Choreographic Works, And Pantomimes

These fall under the purview of dramatic works as well. 

5. Graphic, Pictorial, And Sculptural Works

These need to possess some degree of creative authorship. 

6. Motion Pictures

These include camera, sound, and dialogues too. Some important cases include

  • Paramount Pictures v. Carol Publishing
  • Anderson v. Stallone(Rocky IV)

7. Audio-Visual Works

These include artistic performances including film soundtracks.

8. Sound Recordings

This right protects against bootlegging and unauthorized sale and dealings of soundtracks.

The author is generally the first copyright owner. 

Section 106: Exclusive Rights

Section 106 Exclusive Rights

The Copyright Act 1976, establishes a list of exclusive rights that are to be enjoyed by copyright holders. They are

  • The Exclusive Right To Reproduce. 

The first owner of the copyright, the author has every right to reproduce their original work, be it copies or covers.

  • The Right To Create Derivative Works.

The author has the right to create content derived from his original copyrighted work.

  • The Right To Distribute Copies And Phonorecords Of The Original Work To The Public By Sale, Lease, Or By Renting Out.

This right also gives the copywriter to prohibit unauthorized distribution of their work.

  • The Right To Perform The Copyrighted Work Publicly 

This is applicable in the case of literary, choreographic, motion picture, pantomime, musical, dramatic, or audiovisual work.

  • The Right To Display The Work Publicly

This is also applicable in the case of literary, choreographic, motion picture, pantomime, musical, dramatic, or audiovisual work.

Section 107 Of The Copyright Act 1976 Fair Use

This is one of the major defenses to the claims of copyright infringement. Even if the action technically falls under the purview of Section 106, this Section states that fair use does not constitute copyright infringement. This Section is specifically applicable to the following areas, although not limited to it:

  • News reporting,
  • Scholarship,
  • Teaching,
  • Research purposes 
  • Criticisms.
Section 302 Term Of Protection Of Copyright

This Section states that the copyright extends to “a term consisting of the life of the author and fifty years after the author’s death”. For anonymous works, pseudonyms, and works made for hire(done as a part of the job), the protection period extends to a period of 75 years. 

The Copyright Term Extension Act was passed in 1998, extending the copyright term to the lifespan of the author and 70 more years. 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation for works made for hire. 

Section 204 Transfer Of Copyright

This Section elaborates on the transfer of ownership of copyrights. For the successful transfer of copyrights, verbal consent is not enough. The owner has to sign a statement to that effect. In case of the copyright transferred of a single existing copy, the owner signs away the entirety of his copyrights. 

Section 408 Registration Of Copyright 

This Section states that the registration of one’s intellectual property is not a prerequisite for the ownership of the copyright on it. Although, if one has to take action against infringement, registration is a must. The individual has to submit a couple of copies of the work to the office after publishing for registering it under the owner. 

Section 203: Termination Of Rights

Section 203 Termination Of Rights

This Section states that for licensed works, the copyright ceases to exist 35 years after it was granted. First, the legal professional issues a notice, 2 years prior to the end of 35 years, to the grantee stating the termination in writing. It must be signed by the author. This section does not apply to works on hire. 


Provisions Of Significance

The provisions of the Copyright Royalty Board are dealt with under 

  • Copyright Royalty and Distribution Reform Act of 2004. 
  • Copyright Royalty Judges Program Technical Corrections Act. 

The Copyright Royal Judges look after the minimization of disruptions on the institutions benefitting from the Copyright Laws of the USA. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):-

Q1: What Is The Current Copyright Law In The US? 

Ans: The current Copyright Act, 1976, in action, establishes that copyright generally lasts for 70 years after the lifespan of the author.

Q2: What Are The 3 Copyright Laws/Requirements?

Ans: The requisites are as follows:

It must be a work of authorship.
This has to be an original work.
It must be expressed in a tangible form.


The Copyright Laws of the United States are not exhaustive with new additions made with the changing times and requirements of society. It has also made considerable progress in the sphere of cyber law protecting the works of creators and specialists from infringements. 

The fair usage policy has brought about revolutionary changes to the previously staunch and inflexible provisions of copyright. 

Stay tuned to know more about upcoming amendments and regulations!

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Mashum Mollah
Mashum Mollah

Mashum Mollah is the feature writer of Search Engine Magazine and an SEO Analyst at iDream Agency. Over the last 3 years, He has successfully developed and implemented online marketing, SEO, and conversion campaigns for 50+ businesses of all sizes. He is the co-founder of Social Media Magazine.


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