One of the best resources for searching for whether something is copyrighted is the Library of Congress Copyright Office. With over 200 years of archives, the Library of Congress is an invaluable tool for discovering who owns rights to what and whether a given work is still protected or available in the public domain.
However, with such a large amount of archives, searching can be challenging. Here are a few tips for doing a copyright search.
Know What You’re Searching For
The methods you use will vary depending on the material, especially the date of publication of the work you’re looking for. Determining when the copyrighted material was published can be an important first step when searching. For copyrights published after 1978, you can find a record of the copyright at cocatalog.loc.gov. For copyrights before 1978, it can be a bit more difficult.
Search the Catalog of Copyright Entries
For pre-1978 records, you can search the Library of Congress card catalog in person. If this isn't an option, the next best method is to use the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE), which is an index of the copyright entries in the records of the Copyright Office.
Most public libraries in the United States carry a copy of the CCE. The CCE provides rudimentary information, including whether the copyright has been renewed and the name of its current owner. While the information is sometimes limited, it is a starting point for any copyright search.
Narrowing the Search
Once you have some initial results, the method you use will depend on your needs:
- If you are trying to identify the owner of the copyright, you will want to focus on certificates of registration issued by the Copyright Office.
- If you want to determine whether the work has entered the public domain, you will need to consult the date of the copyright registration. Works published before 1923 are in the public domain. Works published between 1923 and 1963 are protected for 28 years if the copyright was not renewed, or 95 years if it was.
Get Help to Save Time
Don't be afraid to ask for help if you get stuck. An intellectual property attorney can help guide you through the process or perform the search for you.