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If you happen to be the grandson of a famous comic book author, playwright, artist, or other creative icon who sold his rights for a fraction of what they ended up being worth, copyright termination is a subject you should know something about.

Section 304(c) of the United States Copyright Act enables a copyright owner or its heirs to terminate all grants, licenses or transfers of rights (made prior to 1978) beginning on the 56th year after that grant of rights was made.  Thus, in certain cases, it is possible to recapture rights to a copyrighted work that was previously transferred.  The purpose of the copyright termination laws is to allow authors to benefit from laws that extended the term of copyright from 56 years to 95 years, enabling them to recapture 39 years of term. The United States Copyright Act provides a five year period beginning in the 56th year, in which a grant of rights may be terminated. A qualified copyright attorney will know how to go about the termination process.

If an author or his heirs miss the opportunity to recapture the 39-year copyright term, there is another opportunity at the end of 75 years to recapture the final 20 years of copyright.  To take advantage of this new opportunity to terminate, notice of termination must be sent to the proper party no later than 78 years from the date of the original copyright (or, as early as 65 years after initial publication).

Termination notices must be recorded with the Copyright Office prior to the date of termination. Any copyright proprietor wishing to terminate a grant, license or transfer of any copyright rights must provide at least two (2) years’ and no more than ten (10) years’ written notice to the person to whom the grant was made. There are nuances in providing a notice of termination to the Copyright Office that are beyond the scope of this blog. If you believe you may be entitled to terminate a copyright you should contact a copyright attorney.