Duration of Copyright refers to how long the owner of the copyright holds onto these rights and is complex, depending on the country and date of creation. Copyright on some US work, having been created during a period when Copyright Registration was necessary (e.g. in USA up to 1963 – for more detailed breakdown see Hirtle (2010)), has expired and passed into Public Domain.
During this period of registration surprisingly few copyright periods were renewed (Patry 2009 p.69). While only 7% of books were renewed, 74% of films and 35 % of music were. It was the representatives of these sections of the industry who lobbied for changes in US law in 1998 and UK Law in 2010. We can see from this the importance of copyright in these sections of the industry has been recognized for a large portion of the 20th Century.
Duration of copyright currently is death +70 years for a musical composition or a book. Film and sound recordings are 50 years from 1st release in the UK, and 95 years from release in the US – although, US law does allow for a period of up to 120 years from release.
If the main purpose of copyright is to ‘promote creativity’, why do durations need to be so long? From the industry point of view, the right to distribute needs to be protected. Songs can have a long life, even though most only have a short period in which they are profitable.(Lessig 2004 p.134) However, quite often works are in copyright but deemed uneconomical to distribute. This means that an awful lot of culture is locked away – works that could easily be distributed via digital means.