To see if a work has been registered for copyright or to see if the copyright was renewed, you'll need to check the U.S. Copyright Office records.
The Copyright Office has an online database to search for works registered since 1978. This database also contains copyright renewals for book-related materials since 1950.
To search earlier registrations and renewals, search the Catalog of Copyright Entries. Many of these have been digitized and can be seen here or here. The Online Books Page has a useful guide: How Can I Tell Whether a Copyright was Renewed?
Remember: Works published today do not have to be registered to have copyright protection!
This site is intended for informational purposes only. Library staff members cannot give legal advice. For legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.
When deciding if you need permission to use a work, do the following:
Copyright laws have changed over the years, so it often takes some investigation to determine a work's copyright status. You'll need to know one or more of the following:
A copyright notice can provide information about a work's copyright status, but the lack of a copyright notice does not mean a work is not copyrighted. Remember that a work does not have to be registered or even published to have copyright protection.
Once you have this information, proceed to the Copyright Status of Works.
If a work has not been published, the following copyright terms apply:
The copyright status of a published work varies depending on when it was published and whether or not the work was registered, renewed, or published with a copyright notice.
Published without a copyright notice:
Published with a copyright notice:
Identifying the copyright owner of a work may be a simple process or a complicated one. Sometimes, the work's copyright notice supplies all the information you need to identify the copyright owner. In other cases, the copyright has changed hands or more than one person owns the copyright to a single work. It's important to remember that the author of a work is not always the copyright owner.
To identify the copyright owner of a work, check one or more of the following:
For more information, see:
Need help? Ask a librarian!
After you have determined the copyright holder and the copyright status of a work, you may need to request permission to use the work.
In some cases, if you are able to find the appropriate contact information, you may contact the copyright holder directly.
In most cases, however, you will need to contact a licensing agency. A list of collective licensing agencies can be found at the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University.
When you request permission, be prepared to:
For sample permission letters, see:
Remember: Getting permission can take a while! Although it doesn't always take this long, be aware that the process can take a few months.