How can I determine who holds the copyright for a book, or other creative work?

A general outline of copyright coverage is available at the Cornell web site Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States.

Sometimes it's difficult to discover who holds the copyright for a given work, especially an older one-- and to contact them.

Search US Copyright registrations 1978 to the present online

What about pre-1978 registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership? These require a manual search of government copyright files at the Copyright Office. You can do this yourself or their staff will perform searches for a fee.  See Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, and Circular 23, Copyright Card Catalog and the Online File

How to locate the rights holder once you've determined their identity? If it's an entity like Conde Nast publishers or the Picasso estate, you'll often find information on their web pages, usually under a title like "Permissions for use." 

WATCH (Writers, Artists and Their Copyright Holders) administered by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and the University of Reading (UK). An invaluable resource for official and private copyright information, including contact information for the holders and/or their legal representatives.


Harvard affiliates, or those with queries about the copyright status of Harvard Library holdings, can contact one of our Copyright First Responders or While the CFRs cannot give legal advice, they can often make suggestions based on a particular instance.


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