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How does my work end up in the public domain?

Many California copyright holders feel pretty secure that the government will protect their work. Still, with the recent news that 2019 will see a lot of copyrighted music, movies, poems and books enter the public domain for the first time, it is helpful to know how intellectual property enters the public domain and whether you should be concerned that yours might do the same.

According to Stanford University, copyright does have natural expiration dates, but those dates will vary according to when they were published. If a work was published in the United States before the year 1923, it is now considered public domain. However, thanks to a law passed in 1998, it took until the year 2019 for any works from 1923 to become public domain. From there, works published in 1924 will pass into public domain in 2020, and so on.

But not everything can be copyrighted or remain copyrighted.

Some intellectual property owners lose their copyrights when it is discovered that their work could not be copyrighted to begin with. For example, some phrases, facts and theories are not covered by copyright law. Moreover, ideas also cannot be copyrighted; only the way an idea is expressed is allowed to be protected.

Copyrights are also lost when intellectual property owners fail to renew their copyrights when they are about to expire. Copyrighted works before the year 1964 required the copyright holder to renew the copyright 28 years after the initial publication. If the work was not renewed, it fell into the public domain. However, since the law was changed, this renewal requirement is not in force for works after 1964.

Whether you want to copyright a work is up to you. There are people who not only fail to register their work for copyright protection, but will actually make it available to the public for their own use. This is known as dedication. But be aware that dedications are rare, so if you should find a published work with no obvious copyright status, you should not assume it is free to use.

If you are uncertain that you have followed correct procedures for keeping your work out of the public domain or if you feel someone is using your work under the false impression that it has not been copyrighted, call Wang IP Law Group for answers to your questions or for legal assistance. You may also check out the website for more information about guarding your intellectual property. Keep in mind that this article is not legal advice and only offers educational benefit.

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