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DANC 355: Dance production: Music Copyright Law

Copyright in the US

Major Legislation:

Copyright Act of 1976 (1976) - Established life of the author plus 50 years.

Copyright Renewal Act (1992) - Made copyright renewal automatic.  Prior to this act, the creator had to renew the copyright after 28 years.

Digital Millenium Copyright Act/Term Extension Act (1998) - Extended copyright protections from 75 years to 95 years from the date of the original work and extended the life of the author plus 50 years to 70 years for works published after 1978. Added digital media including copyright.  Many of these provisions are still being tested in courts.

TEACH Act (2002) - Created exceptions for non-profit educational performances.  Almost any performance or display is allowed as long as it's in a face-to-face environment.  Distance education is only allowed “reasonable and limited portions” of a work or display comparable to the face-to-face classroom.


Current Protections:

Published Date

Copyright Protections

Public Domain

Works Published Before 1923

Maximum Copyright Protection of 75 years has Expired

Works are in the Public Domain

Works Published 1923 thru 1978

Maximum Copyright Protection
of 95 Years from Year Published

1923 and Later Works Begin Entry to Public Domain on 1/1/2019

Works Published
After 1978

Life of the Longest Surviving
Author plus 70 years

Earliest Possible PD date is 1/1/2049

Sound Recordings

Musical Works and Sound Recordings have two SEPARATE copyrights.  The Copyright Act of 1976 established a specific category for sound recordings which protects works created in 1972 and onward.  The Copyright Term Extension Act Extended the copyright protection for works to life + 70.  It is quite true that pre-1972 sound recordings have no federal copyright protection, but they are still well protected under state law.  Virtually every sound recording in the USA is copyright protected at least until the year 2067.

The Intellectual Copyright Debate

Competing Ideas

The right to "free and open access" to information and ideas VS. The right to make a profit or to protect the integrity of your creations.

James Madison Thomas Jefferson
Argued for exclusive rights for writings or inventions, as an incentive for people to create.
Argued against “monopolies” for creative works, or the ownership of ideas.

US Constitution: Article 1, Section 8

“ To promote the Progress of Science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”

Protected Works

  • Literary works
    • Including electronic documents and software
  • Musical works
    • Scores and sound recordings have separate copyrights
  • Dramatic works
  • Pantomimes & choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphical, or sculptural works
  • Motion picture and other audiovisual works
    •  Including web pages
  • Sound recordings
  • Architectural works


Much of this information came from the Public Domain Information project which can be found at:

Many thanks to the tireless work of the individuals at Haven Sound, Inc. for compiling this information.