If you were to write a catchy tune, or a brilliant novel, you wouldn’t want some stranger to come along and sell your efforts out from under you. In any case, you would want the right to pass the benefits of your efforts on to your heirs, even if they would have to share your gains with various taxing authorities.
Fortunately, your rights are protected by Title 17 of the United States Code. Under our country’s copyright legislation, your work is kept out of the public domain for 70 years after you die. This means that your brilliance can be handed down to your children, your grandchildren, and possibly, even your great-grandchildren.
If your masterpiece is so great that it transcends national borders, your protection is still pretty good. Not all countries will respect the United States’ take on copyright laws. If the laws of a given country are as generous as ours, and they signed a treaty with us regarding copyright, your work will be protected. Unfortunately, if the country has no treaty with us, your work will not be protected in its borders.
In the old days, copyright protection was not nearly as extensive. The United States Constitution provides that the congress can make laws to:
“promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8,)
This provision of the United States’ founding document has been the subject of some controversy . Some proponents of copyright protection believe that copyright laws should cover the original artist and his progeny’s rights in the work in perpetuity. Opponents take the position that less restrictive copyright protection would enhance the public domain, giving current artists a greater resource to draw upon for inspiration. Although the constitution does not permit eternal copyright protection, it is silent as to the “limit” congress can impose to “promote the progress of science and useful arts”, and thus such protection could almost last forever if congress so chose.
When congress first addressed the issue of copyright protection it was made available to the artist and her descendents for 28 years after her death. In 1978, the length of time was extended to 50 years. Finally, in 1998, the United States extended the protection to 70 years after the artist’s death in deference to the copyright protection available to artists and writers in the European Union.
This law appears in Title 17, Section 304 of the United States Code, and was co-sponsored by Sonny Bono, a former rock star turned congressman. Bono began his political career as mayor of Palm Springs, California from April 1988 to April 1992. He served in the United States Congress from January 3, 1995 to January 5, 1998. He was killed in a skiing accident on January 5, 1998. He and his former wife, Cher Bono were famous for several hit songs, including “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”. Sonny’s name is memorialized in the name of the copyright legislation which can be sighted as “The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act”.
Lucille U is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.