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1909 Copyright Act: An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Acts Respecting Copyright, Pub. L. No. 60-349, 35 Stat. 1075 (Mar. 4, 1909).


The Act was a landmark statute in United States statutory copyright law. The Act as amended was the copyright law of the United States from July 1, 1909 through December 31, 1977. It was repealed effective January 1, 1978 and replaced with the 1976 Copyright Act. However, the Act remains effective for copyrighted works created before the 1976 Act went into effect on January 1, 1978. It allowed for works to be copyrighted for a period of 28 years from the date of publication, renewable for a second 28-year term.

Congress addressed the difficulty of balancing the public interest with proprietor's rights:

The main object to be desired in expanding copyright protection accorded to music has been to give the composer an adequate return for the value of his composition, and it has been a serious and difficult task to combine the protection of the composer with the protection of the public, and to so frame an act that it would accomplish the double purpose of securing to the composer an adequate return for all use made of his composition and at the same time prevent the formation of oppressive monopolies, which might be founded upon the very rights granted to the composer for the purpose of protecting his interests.[1]

Dual System[]

Under the 1909 Act, there were two systems of copyright in the United States. State law protected unpublished works. When a work was published, it generally lost state law protection. Federal statutory copyright protection attached to an original work only when that work was 1) published and 2) had a notice of copyright affixed. Thus, state copyright law governed protection for unpublished works, but published works, whether containing a notice of copyright or not, were governed exclusively by federal law.

If no notice of copyright was affixed to a work and the work was "published" in a legal sense, the 1909 Act provided no copyright protection and the work became part of the public domain. The 1976 Act changed this result, providing that copyright protection attaches to works that are original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression, regardless of publication or affixation of notice.


  1. H.R. Rep. No. 2222, 60th Cong., 2nd Sess., at 7 (1909).

External resources[]

  • Full text of the Sept. 1972 revision of the Copyright Act of 1909 (misleadingly labeled).
  • 1909 Act as originally passed and each revision.

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