Question about International Copyright

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  • Hello

    I have a question relating to International Copyright Law. I am contacting on behalf of an individual who wishes to scan and utilize various translations of a story. These translations may or may not be out of copyright, but it is hard to tell. Two of the publications are from Guatemala(one published in 1927, the other in 1955), and one publication is from Germany(published in 1944). Any advice about where these publications might stand would help me(and him) tremendously.


    Dan Mayo
  • Dear Dan,

    On the matter of whether these works are still copyrighted in the U.S., I can provide you with some general information, but there is not enough information here to say for sure. First, one thing is unclear: does the individual wish to use translations published in Guatemala (1927 and 1955) and Germany (1944), or translations of original works that were first published in those countries on those dates? It matters because there are two sets of rights for each translation—the copyright in the original work and the copyright in the translation. You will need to consider all six sets of rights. If the original works are not on the public domain, you need to think about possible permissions for those as well.

    If you have in mind translations published in Guatemala (1927 and 1955) and Germany (1944) of original works published earlier, then I can tell you that it’s likely they are still copyrighted in the U.S. The U.S. established copyright relations with Guatemala in 1913 and with Germany in 1892 (despite the suspension of relations during the wars, copyright relations were restored after WW2 and also existed in 1955 by virtue of U.S.-Germany relations under the UCC).

    There are two ways these works could still be copyrighted today—if the publication formalities were fulfilled as appropriate (if the 1927 and 1944 works were published with notice, properly registered, renewed in the U.S. Copyright Office, or if the 1955 work was published with notice); or if they had their copyrights restored in the U.S. in 1996.

    Without further information on the copyright notices and records from U.S. Copyright Office, I can’t comment on the former. The chance that the 1927 and 1944 works were registered and renewed in the U.S. is not high. The chance of them being restored in the U.S. is much higher. But there is no way to do an assessment on this without knowing the death dates of the authors. In this case we need death dates of the authors of the original works and also of the translations. Even then, I might not be able to know exactly, but I can make a better guess.

    Because applying copyright law demands specific information, it is hard to say anything without all the essential facts on the works. At this point all I can say is that these works could very well still be copyrighted in the U.S. either by virtue of copyrights obtained years ago, or by virtue of copyright restoration.

    I hope this helps. If you would like to provide more info, I can follow up.

    Janice Pilch

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