Starting in 2013, authors began to have the ability to reclaim copyrights they transferred to a publisher in 1978 or later. Copyright law permits authors to reclaim their copyrights 35 years after transferring rights for purposes of publication. Authors interested in reclaiming copyright need to file a notice in advance, according to a designated timetable.
Reclaiming copyright allows the author to make new publishing arrangements, including making the work openly available on the web, or taking advantage of new economic opportunities.
Initiating the required notice to the Copyright Office involves very specific steps that must be taken on a particular timetable. A few of the key parameters include:
- The notice to the copyright holder (publisher) must include specific pieces of information, and must also be registered with the Copyright Office
- The notice must be provided to the copyright holder within 10 years and no later than two years before the copyright would terminate under the notice (see Sample calculations)
- Termination must occur during a five year period beginning 35 years after publication
In a simple case, these specifications likely mean that for a work published in 1981, the last year a notice could be sent to inform the publisher about termination would be this year, in 2014. An author may require the assistance of an attorney to determine exactly whether and how the requirements apply, as the process is complex.
For more information:
- Summary from the copyright office
- Blog post by lawyer Jane Litte “Reclaiming Your Copyright”
- Wording of the relevant section (203) of US copyright law
Ellen Finnie Duranceau / Program Manager, Scholarly Publishing, Copyright, and Licensing / MIT Libraries