Best bet

U.S. Copyright Office
The best website for copyright information. It includes FAQs, links to legislation (current and proposed), regulations, information on how to for a copyright, international copyright sites, information about searching for copyrighted material, fees, and much more. To get started, see Copyright basics.

Federal laws

The Copyright & Patent Clause, Art. I, s.8, cl.8 of the U.S. Constitution
Empowers the U.S. Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

17 U.S. Code
U.S. copyright laws and related transitional and related statutory and international provisions.

Major public laws incorporated in the U.S. Code Title 17:

Federal regulations

37 CFR Parts 201-270 (Copyright regulations)
Also known as Circular 96, they are published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Treaties and other international agreements of which the United States is a party

Chronological order of US effective date

International Copyright Relations of the United States 
Copyright Circular 38a lists the countries with which there are parties to specific multilateral agreements or bilateral relationships. The list indicates which agreements each country has signed and the date each agreement took effect.

Universal Copyright Convention (UCC Geneva, 1952)
Adopted in Geneva, Switzerland in 1952, it was developed as an alternative for those states which disagreed with the Berne Convention, but still wanted to participate in some form of multilateral copyright protection. The effective date for the United States was September 16, 1955.

Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms (1971), or Geneva Phonograms Convention
It granted record producers the international right to block imports of counterfeit music recordings, and to take action against distributors and retailers who sold them. The effective date for the United States was March 10, 1974.

Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Paris text, 1971)
The Berne Convention requires signatories to recognize the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries in the same way as it recognized the copyright of its own nationals. It also requires that member states provide strong minimum copyright standards for copyright law. First accepted in Bern, Switzerland, in 1886, it became effective in the United States on March 1, 1989.

Universal Copyright Convention (UCC Paris, 1971)
Protection under U.S. Copyright Law is expressly required for works published by the United Nations, by U.N. specialized agencies, and by the Organization of American States. The effective date for the United States was July 10, 1974.

Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs, 1994), part of GATT 1994.
This agreement is administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and sets down minimum standards for many forms of intellectual property (IP) regulation as applied to nationals of other WTO members. The effective date for the United States was January 1, 1995.

WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT, 1996)
World Intellectual Property Organization is a United Nations agency dedicated to the use of intellectual property The effective date in the United States was March 6, 2002.

Rome International Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organizations (1961)
The agreement extended copyright protection for the first time from the author of a work to the creators and owners of particular, physical manifestations of intellectual property, such as audiocassettes or DVDs. The effective date in the United States was May 20, 2002.

WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT, 1996)
WPPT was adopted with an objective to develop and maintain the protection of the rights of performers and producers of phonograms in a manner as effective and uniform as possible. The effective date in the United States was May 20, 2002.


Web sources

Copyright in general

  • Copyright Clearance Center
    Serving the interests of those who supply content, the CCC is a global rights broker for in- and out-of-print materials. It facilitates getting permission, licensing your own content, registering copyright, etc.
  • Copyright law in the United States, Bitlaw.
    This website has clear summaries of the various elements of copyright law in the U.S.
  • Copyright renewal database, Stanford University.
    This database makes searchable the copyright renewal records received by the U.S. Copyright Office between 1950 and 1992 for books published in the U.S. between 1923 and 1963. Note that the database includes only U.S. Class A (book) renewals.
  • Copyright term and public domain, Cornell University. 
    This chart shows the lifespan of copyright protection by type of work.
  • Copyright timeline, Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
    A history of copyright in the United States, this comprehensive timeline begins with the 18th century and includes references to major changes in copyright law made by Congress, the courts, and other organizations.
  • Lumen, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.
    "The Lumen database collects and analyzes legal complaints and requests for removal of online materials, helping Internet users to know their rights and understand the law. These data enable us to study the prevalence of legal threats and let Internet users see the source of content removals." See also Copyright subtopics.
  • Search copyright records, U.S. Copyright Office.
    Search online for works registered and documents recorded by the U.S. Copyright Office since January 1, 1978. Includes tips on how to find records of works registered prior to January 1, 1978.
  • What are the copyright implications of NFTs?, Reuters, October 29, 2021.

Fair use


Print sources

Copyright handbook, Stephen Fishman, Nolo Press, 2021.

Copyright law in a nutshell, by Mary LaFrance. West, 2017.

Getting permission, Nolo Press, 2019.

Intellectual property practice, chapter 7, MCLE, 2020.

Nimmer on copyright: A treatise on the law of literary, musical and artistic property, and the protection of ideas, by Melville B. Nimmer. M. Bender, 1978 - to date.

Patent, copyright and trademark, Nolo Press, 2020.

Protecting and enforcing copyright, by Lisa M. Tittemore and Joel R. Leeman. MCLE, 2014.

The public domain, Nolo Press, 2020.

Substantial similarity in copyright law, by Robert C. Osterberg and Eric C. Osterberg. PLI, 2003 - to date.


Last updated: December 20, 2022

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