Current copyright law grants copyright protection for seventy years after the author’s death, or ninety-five years from the date of creation for a work created for hire. But it was not always this way.
The first US copyright law, which only protected books, maps, and charts, provided protection for only 14 years with a renewable term of 14 years. Over time, copyright law was revised to grant protections to other forms of creative expression, such as photography and motion pictures. Congress also saw fit to extend the length of the protections, as shown in the chart below. Today, copyright has become big business, with many businesses relying on the income from copyright-protected works for their income.
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Many now think that the protections last too long. The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act has been nicknamed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” as it was enacted just in time to protect the copyright on the Walt Disney Company’s Mickey Mouse character. Because of this term extension, many works from the 1920s and 1930s that would have been available now in the public domain are not available.