Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
December 7, 1994
Copyright Office Issues Clarification
The Copyright Office's recent registration of the syndicated TV series "Battleline" has spawned some press accounts that stated inaccurately that the Copyright Office is now granting retroactive protection to works previously in the public domain. The Office does not consign works to or resurrect works from the public domain.
The Battleline television series, syndicated in 1963, fell under an earlier law that required a copyright notice to be placed on published works to retain copyright protection. Because the copies submitted to the Office bore inadequate copyright notices, and because syndication of a work is generally understood as publication, it appeared that the works were in the public domain. Therefore the Copyright Office at first refused to register the series.
The "Battleline" claimant appealed to the Office for reconsideration, arguing that distribution of the series was limited, and thus no general publication took place and copyright was not lost. After carefully reviewing the arguments and the supporting case law, the Office recognized that there is at least a possibility that this work was not published in a general sense, and registered the works.
Press reports have speculated that broadcasters of old series previously assumed to be in the public domain may be now approached for copyright royalties. The Copyright Office's decision to register "Battleline" does not mean that the Office has decided that the copyright claim in the work is valid; it simply is a reflection of the practice of the Copyright Office to resolve doubtful claims in favor of registration. It is up to the courts to determine the validity of a copyright claim.
The Office will continue to consider each application for registration of syndicated episodes on its own facts. For more information, contact the Copyright General Counsel's Office at (202) 707-8380.
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