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Under the 1909 Copyright Act, there were many specific actions, i.e., “formalities,” that needed to be taken by the creator/owner in order to create a valid copyright. Failure to do so could void the copyright. Among the essential formalities were posting of a notice of copyright on the work and registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. At the expiration of the first 28-year term of copyright, a renewal had to be filed to extend protection for another 28-year term.[1]

Observing formalities as a prerequisite to creating a valid copyright was abandoned under the 1976 Copyright Act. Under current law, a copyright is created automatically when the creative expression is fixed in tangible form. Copyright formalities were rejected in the 1976 law for several reasons. The legislative history notes the concern that rigid formalities put an undue burden on creators, who could lose copyright protection in its entirety for failure to comply with a formality requirement.[2] A primary goal, however, was to harmonize U.S. copyright law with international treaties and practice, where formalities are not a requirement for copyright protection.


  1. See U.S. Copyright Office, Circular 15: Renewal of Copyright.
  2. See H.R. Rep. 94-1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 147 (1976) and S. Rep. 94-473, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 130 (1976) (“[The bill] takes a middle-ground approach in an effort to encourage use of a copyright notice without causing unfair and unjustifiable forfeitures on technical grounds.”).