Procedure for determining copyright status of monographs published in the U.S. before 1950, using the Catalog of Copyright Entries



The Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) is the official record of the U.S. Copyright Office. The CCE has been found to be a reliable tool in determining the copyright status of a work and the name of the claimant at the time of original registration and renewal. However, the CCE does not include the addresses of copyright holders or any information about later assignments or transfers of copyright.

The CCE is available in printed form to 1979, after which it was issued in microfiche form only. The CCE is divided into parts according to the classes of works registered. For the dates in this study, the class was "Books." Each volume of the CCE contains entries for registrations made during a particular year, with the entries for renewals in a separate section. For copyright records beginning in 1978, an online catalog is available through LC Marvel gopher://

Before commencing a copyright search process, read Circular 22 of the Copyright Office "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work." The Copyright Office makes available a series of other useful circulars on various aspects of copyright. Questions about copyright searching can be answered by the staff of the Reference and Bibliography Section of the U.S. Copyright Office (202-707-6737).



Searching should be done by experienced, accurate bibliographic searchers with knowledge of forms of entry, corporate authors, and characteristics and variations in the forms of monographic publications. The results of all searches should be reviewed by a librarian experienced in bibliographic searching.

The "Books" portion of the CCE for 1920-1977 takes 24 linear feet of shelf space. Efficient searching of a large number of titles requires that the entire set be shelved together in close proximity to a table and chair that can be used for concentrated, quiet searching. Ideally, searching should proceed from the books in hand (or from a photocopy of the title page and verso) rather than from a list of publications. Results of prior bibliographic searches (e.g., in RLIN and OCLC), placed in the books for convenience, can provide useful clues for complex titles.



1.0 Works published more than 75 years ago are in the public domain and do not require copyright searches.

2.0 Examine the book carefully.

2.1. Look for a copyright symbol and date. Lack of a notice of copyright is a fatal defect, so publications with no copyright notice may be presumed to be in the public domain.

2.2 Look for evidence that the book may be part of a series, multivolume work, or serial. Search the appropriate sections of the CCE (e.g., Pamphlets or Serials) if necessary.

3.0 Search the correct CCE volume indexes under both author and title to find an entry indicating that the work was registered for copyright. If there are multiple authors, search all of them. Note that the arrangement of volume indexes varies over time. If you have difficulty finding any copyrighted titles for a year, be suspicious and look through the volume again to be sure you have found all the indexes.

If no copyright registration is found for the year of publication (usually the same as the date by the copyright symbol in the book), search as above in the volume for the following year.

When a copyright registration is found, note the month and year it was copyrighted and the copyright number.

4.0 When a copyright registration is found, add 28 years to the year of initial copyright and search the author(s) and title in the renewals index of that year (i.e., if a book was copyrighted in 1922, search 1950 for a renewal). If no renewal is found in the 28th year, search as above in the 27th year after initial registration.

When a copyright renewal is found, note the renewal number and the name of the copyright holder.

5.0 Have an experienced professional librarian review search results. In this review, titles with the following characteristics should be re-checked in the appropriate volume(s): 1. published in multiple editions; 2. corporate or multiple authors; 3. may be part of a serial publication, or may be a pamphlet.

6.0 Works for which no renewal was found using these procedures may be presumed to be in the public domain.