Last modified on February 14, 2009, at 15:28

Copyright Term Extension Act

The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), also known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, installed the fourth major duration extension of federal copyrights. Retaining the general structure of the 1976 Act, the CTEA enlarged the terms of all existing and future copyrights by 20 years. For works created by identified natural persons, the term now lasts from creation until 70 years after the author's death.[1] This standard was justified by liberals as a means of "harmonizing" the baseline United States copyright term with foreign law, specifically the term adopted by the European Union in 1993.[2] For anonymous works, pseudonymous works, and works made for hire, the term is 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first.[3]

Nine statutes passed between 1962 and 1974 also incrementally extended existing copyrights for brief periods. See Pub. L. 87-668, 76 Stat. 555; Pub. L. 89-142, 79 Stat. 581; Pub. L. 90-141, 81 Stat. 464; Pub. L. 90-416, 82 Stat. 397; Pub. L. 91-147, 83 Stat. 360; Pub. L. 91-555, 84 Stat. 1441; Pub. L. 92-170, 85 Stat. 490; Pub. L. 92-566, 86 Stat. 1181; Pub. L. 93-573, Title I, 88 Stat. 1873. These statutes were eventually subsumed into systemic changes enacted by the 1976 Act.

Paralleling the 1976 Act, the CTEA applies these new terms to all works not published by January 1, 1978.[4] For works published before 1978 with existing copyrights as of the CTEA's effective date, the CTEA extends the term to 95 years from publication.[5] Thus, in common with the 1831, 1909, and 1976 Acts, the CTEA's new terms apply to both future and existing copyrights.


  1. 17 U.S.C. § 302(a).
  2. Council Directive 93/98/EEC of 29 October 1993 Harmonizing the Term of Protection of Copyright and Certain Related Rights, 1993 Official J. Eur. Cmty. 290 (EU Council Directive 93/98).
  3. 17 U.S.C. § 302(c).
  4. §§ 302(a), 303(a).
  5. § 304(a) and (b).