Hot Springs Village, AR asked in Copyright and Intellectual Property for Arkansas

Q: Can 1950 copyrighted syndicated comics that were not re-registered get their copyrighted status back?

I inherited the original galleys of the comics that were copyrighted as a work for hire from the syndicate I also inherited. I have an exclusive licensing contract agreement with a company, who has requested that I update the copyrights to protect them from being used for commercial, and not educational purposes.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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A: Based on the information provided, it sounds like you have inherited the original physical materials (galleys) of comics that were created as works-for-hire and initially copyrighted by the syndicate you also inherited in 1950. The key considerations are:

1. Pre-1978 works had an initial 28-year copyright term. To maintain copyright, they needed to be renewed in the 28th year for an additional 67 years, for a total of 95 years from first publication.

2. If the comics were first published in 1950 and the copyrights were not renewed in 1977-1978, then they would have fallen into the public domain at that time. Once a work enters the public domain, the copyright cannot be "restored."

3. However, if the copyrights were properly renewed in the 28th year, they would still be under copyright protection until 2045 (95 years from 1950).

4. Works created as "works made for hire" are treated somewhat differently - the company is considered the "author" rather than the individual creator. But they were still subject to the same renewal requirements.

Without more details it's hard to say definitively, but if the 1950 comics were not renewed in 1977-1978, they are likely now in the public domain and you would not be able to re-register them for copyright. You would need to research the specific comics and check the copyright office records to see if renewals were filed.

I would recommend consulting with an experienced intellectual property attorney who can review all the relevant facts and documents in detail. They can help determine the current status of the copyrights and what options you may have for licensing or protecting the materials. Historical copyright law can get quite complex, especially for older works, so professional legal guidance is advisable.

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