In the United States, a copyright originally was in effect for the duration of the life of the original author, plus fifty years after the death of the author, or other person holding the copyright, as established by the Berne Convention. Cinematographic copyrights also lasted fifty years after the death of the original author, but photographic copyrights lasted twenty-five years after the death of the original creation of the work. There are several contributing factors that determine the length that a particular copyright will remain in effect, however.
Countries are free to extend the copyright longer. In the United States, after the signing of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, on October 27 1998, copyrights are generally now in effect for seventy years, rather than the original fifty years after the death of the original author. Sometimes a work is created by more than one author. If a work was created by two or more authors, then the copyright expires seventy years after the death of the last surviving author. The duration of a copyright begins the moment it is created in a tangible form.
Copyrights obtained after January 1, 1978 do not have to be renewed. For works created before that date, the copyright should be renewed every twenty eight years. This is not currently mandated, but is advised by the U.S. Copyright Office to ensure complete protection. For works created prior to January 1, 1978, the duration of the copyright extends to ninety five years from the date of the original or renewable copyright.
A copyright covers and protects any original authorship of songs, literary works, photographs, dramatic works, computer software or architectural designs, just to name a few.
Some individuals may believe that since the copyright is in effect from the moment it is fixed in a tangible form, there is no need to register his or her original work. This may be believed either because an individual thinks it does not need to be copyrighted at the moment if it is not being immediately published, or by claiming automatic copyright, or by utilizing the Poor Man’s Copyright, which is not even recognized by the U.S. Copyright Office. But there may be copyright issues that arise later on, so it is best to register that original work and get the appropriate copyright documentation from the U.S. Copyright Office.