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Try the American Library Association's Digital Copyright Slider to Determine Copyright Duration

Public Domain Timetable

 --- Chart Courtesy of Laura Gasaway, Director of the Law Library and professor of law at the University of North Carolina.

Duration of Copyright

The term of copyright protection depends upon the date of creation. A work created on or after January 1, 1978, is ordinarily protected by copyright from the moment of its creation until 70 years after the author's death.

For works made for hire, anonymous works and pseudonymous works (unless the author's identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copyright is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

For works created, published or registered before January 1, 1978, or for more detailed information, you may wish to refer to the Public Domain tab of this guide or request Circular 15 ( "Renewal of Copyright"), Circular 15a ("Duration of Copyright") and Circular 15t ("Extension of Copyright Terms") from the U.S. Copyright Office Web site.

   -- Copyright Clearance Center

International Copyright

According to the U.S. Copyright Office:

"There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an
author’s writings throughout the world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular
country depends on the national laws of that country."

Copyright questions that pertain to works created in other countries are notoriously difficult to research. This is largely due to the fact that each country has different laws and in some cases different languages.

In an effort to provide some clarity, many countries have joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. The Berne Convention was first adopted in 1886 as an agreement to honor the rights of all authors who are citizens of countries that  have joined the convention. 

The Berne Convention further states that the scope and limitations of any copyright are based upon the laws of the country where the misuse of the copyright-protected work takes place (rather than the country where the work originated). For example, if you photocopy an article in the U.S., then U.S. copyright law applies to determine whether that copy was lawful. Similarly, if you digitize an image in the UK, the copyright laws of the UK apply to determine whether that digitized use is lawful.

For a summary of the rights provided by the Berne Convention, please see the UK Copyright Service Fact Sheet.

Best International Practices

First Step

If you plan to reproduce a significant portion of an author's work, your first step in any country is to locate the rights holder of the work in question and ask for permission. For additional information on this process, please see the Digital Media Law Project web site.

Before embarking on an international copyright permissions project, please consider these alternatives:

Fair Use

You may be able to use a portion of the work in question by claiming fair use. However, be aware that each country's definition of what constitutes fair use may differ from U.S. law. For more information see the UK Copyright Service Fact Sheet on fair use.

Locate Alternatives

Can you locate a similar U.S. source with an identifiable copyright holder? If so, contact that rights holder and seek the appropriate permissions. Or, you might also be able to locate an equivalent source that is in the public domain. 

Rethink Your Intended Use

Rather than use the entire work can you cite a small portion of the work or even paraphrase relevant points? Relying on quotations, paraphrasing, and proper citation methods can often help you avoid the copyright permissions process altogether.