How Long Will My Copyright Last?

How long will your copyright last? The answer depends on a number of factors, including the year it was created, how many authors there were, and where it was published. New to the 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style is table 4.1, “Copyright Duration,” which lists the length of copyrights by date of creation, type of authorship, and term of protection.

Copyright is a tricky concept with a complex history, but writers who hope to sell their work, whether through a traditional publisher or by self-publishing, would do well to learn the basic tenets. CMOS gives a thorough overview of US copyrighting issues in chapter 4 (“Rights, Permissions, and Copyright Administration”), specifically in the section “Copyright Law and the Licensing of Rights” (paragraphs 4.2–50).

Some things you might not know about US copyright:

  • The author of a work possesses copyright (along with various subrights) at the time the work is created. The author can sell, rent, give away, will, or transfer rights to whomever the author wishes. Authors normally transfer some or all of these rights to the publisher in a contract. (CMOS 4.3, 4.13)
  • Copyright protection of a work does not require registering it at the United States Copyright Office, although there are practical reasons to do so. (CMOS 4.4, 4.50)
  • When the copyright of a work expires, it is in the “public domain,” free for anyone to republish or adapt. The new work may be copyrightable, but the copyright would apply only to the new material. (CMOS 4.22)
  • Anonymous and pseudonymous works have different rules for length of copyright, because the regular rules are based on the lifetime of the author. (CMOS 4.25)
  • Copyrights may be renewed after the author has died, in which case the law allocates the copyright to the author’s survivors. (CMOS 4.33)
  • It is no longer necessary to put a copyright notice on a work in order for it to be protected. However, such notices may discourage others from stealing or plagiarizing the work. (CMOS 4.40)
  • Anything posted on the internet is “published” in the sense of copyright and must be treated as such for the purposes of complete citation and clearance of permissions, if relevant. (CMOS 4.64–69; 14.14)

When a source is copyrighted—for example, The Chicago Manual of Style—permission is required to republish, adapt, or distribute any part of it. However, various limited types of quoting and reuse may be allowed as long as the original work is credited in a footnote or caption. See chapter 4 of CMOS for advice on permissions and fair use.

Photo: Copyright, by Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Alpha Stock Images.


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Chicago style is named for The Chicago Manual of Style, a reference book for writers and editors first published by the University of Chicago Press in 1906 and now in its 17th edition.

In the 1930s, the Press published Kate Turabian’s Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, often called simply “Turabian,” and soon to be in its 9th edition.

Both books are official sources for Chicago style and are internationally recognized for their authority.  Take a look at the tables of contents of CMOS and Turabian to see at a glance the issues that each book covers.

For more help deciding which book might be right for you, read the Shop Talk post “Help! I Have to Use Chicago Style!


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