How Long Does a Copyright Last

Generally, copyright protection lasts for the length of the author’s life plus another 70 years. In the case of joint works, copyright protection lasts for the length of the life of the last surviving joint author plus another 70 years.

For works made for hire, as well as anonymous and pseudonymous works, the copyright term is either 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.

When the term of protection for a copyrighted work expires, the work enters into the public domain.

Note: If the work was created before 1978, the term of copyright protection may be different. For example, a work published before 1989 was subject to copyright notice requirements. If those requirements were not met, the work may be in the public domain. If you are trying to determine the term of protection for a work created before 1978 we suggest you review the U.S. Copyright Office’s Circular to determine term of protection for these works.

Questions to Determine How Long a Copyright Lasts

As a quick overview, here are a few questions that creators and copyright owners can think through when determining how long a copyright lasts for a particular work:


  • What year was the work created?


  • Who is the author of the work?
  • If so, is the work considered a joint work created by multiple authors?
  • Was the work a work made for hire?
  • Is work an anonymous or pseudonymous work?


Answering these kinds of questions is a great starting point for accurately determining how long copyright protection lasts for a particular work.