April 17, 2007
Issue No. 74

Table of Contents

Copyright Renewal Database Released

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by Mimi Calter

Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR) announces the launch of its Copyright Renewal Database tool, nicknamed the "Copyright Determinator":

This open-source database, developed under a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, makes searchable the copyright renewal records for books (Class A works) published in the United States between 1923 and 1963.

Determining the copyright status of books has become a pressing issue as libraries and business concerns develop plans to digitize materials and make public domain works widely available. In order to appropriately select books for digitization, these organizations need to determine, efficiently and with some certainty, the copyright status of each work in a large collection. The Determinator database supports this process, bringing all 1923-1963 Class A renewal records together in a single database, and, more significantly, making searchable renewal records that had previously been distributed only in print.

"This database is an important tool for anyone researching the copyright status of US works," said Stanford attorney Lauren Schoenthaler. "Having a single, electronic source for all renewals for these works will greatly speed the research process."

U.S. works published 1923-1963 are the only group of works for which renewal is currently a concern. Renewals have expired for works published before 1923, and they are generally in the public domain. The 1976 Copyright Act made renewal automatic for works published after January 1, 1964. Determining the renewal status of works published between 1923 and 1963 has been a challenge, as renewals were received by the Copyright Office as early as 1950, but only records received by the Copyright Office after 1977 are available in electronic form. Renewals received between 1950 and 1977 were announced and distributed only in a semi-annual print publication. For the Determinator databases, Stanford has converted the print records to machine-readable form, and combined them with the electronic renewal records from the Copyright Office.

SULAIR wishes to thank Project Gutenberg, whose work in transcribing the Catalog of Copyright Entries made this project possible. (The Catalog of Copyright Entries was published by the U.S. Copyright Office.) We also wish to thank Professors Michael Lesk, Department Chair of Library and Information Science at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and Lawrence Lessig, the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford, for their practical advice and support.

SULAIR continues to refine the database, and welcomes and encourages comments. Please contact Mimi Calter at with questions or comments.