A publication published in the United States between 1978- March 1, 1989 that had a copyright notice but was not registered- public domain or no?

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  • Hello all, 

    So- I have some publications that were published in the United States between 1978 - March 1, 1989 that I'm assigning rights statements to. Several have copyright notices with Students of InsertUniversityNameHere identified as the copyright holder in the notice. However, 

    1. None of these were actually registered for copyright (I've checked all the appropriate records)

    2. Students of InsertUniversityNameHere is not an actual entity and so I don't think these could be considered work for hire. 

    Now, accoriding to what I can find- if a work published in the United States in this time frame was not registered, then you can't sue for infringement- aka the work is in the public domain in the US due to not complying with required formalilties. 

    However, every resource I consult specifically says that for works published during this time period, it's only in the public domain if it was published without notice. Some just don't include an option of published with notice but without registration, whereas others (like the copyright slider) say specifically that published with a notice means it's still in copyright. I don't understand why. If registration was a required formality in this time period, then why does the inclusion or absence of a copyright notice make any difference when something wasn't registered?


    Thanks for any advice you can provide,


  • The answer is that there were times when registration was required, when notice was required, and when notice and registration were required.  Probably done just to confuse us!

    Peter Hirtle is always cited for being the guru regarding public domain and the rules associated with registration.


    If you look at this site, at the bottom, Peter provides citations to other resources that best explain why and when copyright formalties required both registration and a copyright notice.

    Good luck!



  • Thank you, Carrie. I aplogize I forgot to thank you wayyyy earlier when you first responded. I did not see any one particular citation of Peter's that addressed when both registration and notice were required vs when only notice was required, but I did want to follow up here in case anyone else was pondering this question. 

    "Copyright registration has never been a requirement for protection, but it has always been helpful to authors. The most important aspect of registration, which applies under all three copyright regimes, is that registration is a prerequisite to suing for infringement. Note that registration can occur after the infringement itself, but it must be made before any suit is filed.

    Under the 1909 Act, registration was also necessary before renewing a copyright. The vast majority of authors did not renew their work, but this stipulation may have prevented those who did not anticipate their work remaining relevant enough for renewing to make a financial difference. In that sense, not registering would have prevented authors from doubling their copyright term for that work."
    from https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/US_Copyright_Law/Formalities


    I also looked at both the 1909 Act and the Copyright Act of 1976 and from what I can tell, registration was indeed never a requirement for copyright protection (though again, it does have to be registred before a suit can be filed.) So, in terms of my original question- it looks like these would still be protected and in copyright because they were published with a copyright notice and because of when they were published.

    However, there's still the issue that "Students of ___" being able to register for copyright is a little doubtful since that was not an association or corporate entity or any actual designated group that would likely be able to register for joint ownership/authorship. So, the suing for infringment part would still be unlikely to happen if they can't register it. Anywho, interesting stuff. 

  • Hello.

    Registration and notice are two different things.

    Registration is an official record that says that the Copyright Office has registered your work - that it is original and creative.

    Notice is c in a circle, date and name. 

    At different times, one or both were required to get copyright protection. Now neither are required as copyright protection is assigned as soon as a work is fixed in a tangible medium.

    Hope this helps!



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