Copyright Law Before 1978 - Prior to the Copyright Act of 1976, a work published with notice was copyrighted for 28 years and could be renewed for another 28 years, for a total of 56 years. When the new law went into effect in 1978, that copyright protection was extended to a total of 75 years (subsequently extended to 95 years) for all works currently covered by copyright. Prior to 1978, it was necessary to include notice of the claim of copyright on published copies, and to promptly register the work for protection. If a work was distributed (published) without a valid copyright notice (the © symbol or the word "copyright", the date, and the name of the author), it became public domain upon publication. Under the pre 1978 law, there was no protection of an author's rights in a work until it was published, or registered as an unpublished work. "Published" means distributed to the public, not that a publishing company printed and distributed the work.

The Current Copyright Law - Since Jan. 1, 1978, everything an author (including you and me) has created is protected by copyright the minute it is written. The 1976 Act also allowed the author of a work published after January 1, 1978 without a valid notice to correct the error by registering the work within 5 years of publication. The Berne Convention Implementation Act of 1989 made both notice and registration unnecessary for works first published after March 1, 1989. However, registration provides prima facie evidence of copyright and is usually required to file suit in the courts. A copyright notice alerts others that the work is copyrighted and prevents a defense of innocent infringement. Registering a copyright (2008) costs $35.00 (on line) and $45.00 (paper form)

Duration of Copyright - Works created on or after January 1, 1978 are automatically protected upon creation for the author's life, plus 70 years after the author's death. In the case of "a joint work prepared by two or more authors who did not work for hire," the term lasts for 70 years after the last surviving author's death. For works made for hire, and for anonymous and pseudonymous works, the duration of copyright is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Works created before January 1, 1978, but not published or registered by that date have been automatically brought under the statute and usually are protected for the same term as works created after that date (life of the author plus 70 or 95/120 years). Works in this category that were published on or before December 31, 2002, are protected until at least December 31, 2047.

Works originally created and published with notice, or registered before January 1, 1978 were protected for an initial term of 28 years from the date copyright was secured. During the 28th year of the first term, the copyright was eligible for renewal for an additional 28 years. The Copyright Act of 1976, The Copyright Renewal Act of 1992, and the subsequent Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended the renewal term for copyrights subsisting on January 1, 1978 to 67 years for a total term of protection of 95 years. The Copyright Renewal Act of 1992 amended the 1976 Copyright Act to provide for automatic renewal of the term of copyrights secured between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977. While most copyrights originally secured between 1923 and 1951 were not renewed, due diligence is necessary to verify the current copyright status of works for which copyright was originally secured after 1922.

What is Public Domain -
Any published and/or registered work for which the copyright term has expired, or for which copyright was never secured.
Unadorned facts (data) such as names, dates, locations, occupations, military service, etc. including those transcribed from tombstones, although some personal and identifying information for living people may be protected by privacy laws, either Federal or State.
Works created by officials or employees of the U.S. Government in the course of their duties, e.g. the Federal Census. Note that some States do claim copyright to some of their publications.
Works consisting entirely of information that is common property and containing no original authorship, e.g. blank forms; short phrases; names, titles and slogans; lists of weights and measures, etc.
What is "Fair Use" of Copyrighted Material - U.S.Code, Title 17 does not provide definitions of what is and is not fair use of copyrighted materials. Instead, it lists four criteria:
The purpose and character of the use. Does the use serve simply as a substitute for the original, or does it add something new with a further purpose such as scholarship, comment or criticism?
The nature of the copyrighted work. Is the original primarily a factual work, or is it mostly original expression? Factual works have more limited protection since there are often only a few ways to express a particular fact.
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the entire work. There are no fixed rules for the number of words or paragraphs that constitute fair use. The relation of the quantity must be considered relative to the size of the book or article. The quality of the material, its importance to the work, must also be considered.
Effect of the use on the market for, or value, of the work. Even if your use is not-for-profit, if your use impacts the market value of another's protected expression, your use is probably not fair use.
Using Copyrighted Material - One way to avoid infringing copyright is to paraphrase material, i.e. to put it into your own words. You should, however, always give credit to the source and refrain from extensive use of paraphrasing or indirect quotes. The copyright law itself, under the fair use provision, protects the users' right to copy copyrighted material in certain situations . The copying of a copyrighted work for scholarship or research, for example, is not an infringement of copyright protection. Furthermore, you are not restricted from publishing (or otherwise selling) your scholarship or research. In general, if you republish something exactly the way it looked when first published, you have to worry about copyright laws unless the work is over 95 years old. Regardless of whether copyright laws apply to your situation, The USGenWeb Project urges you to cite your sources in all genealogy work. It makes it easier for the next person to verify what you are doing, and indicates scholarly research.

Lookups - Folks doing lookups should remember that authors have a legitimate right to compensation, and a well-done lookup should include telling folks how to buy the book when it's of significant value to their research. Authors need to understand that genealogists have a right to look before buying and that lookups can represent a marketing tool rather than a loss of sales. To protect The USGenWeb Project as a whole, and each of us as participants in the project, you should remove all lookup offers for which you do not have written permission or have not determined that the source is in the Public Domain and therefore requires no permission.

Where to get Permission - The publisher is the best place to write for permission to quote from a book, poem, song or magazine article. Ask your reference librarian for help locating the publisher's address if it is not printed in the book or magazine. If the publisher is no longer in business, try locating the author in Who's Who in Literature at your local library.