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April 2, 2007

Stanford launches Copyright Renewal Database

An online database that enables people to search copyright-renewal records for books published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 has been launched by Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR).

SULAIR developed the Copyright Renewal Database, dubbed the "Copyright Determinator," with a grant from the Hewlett Foundation. The effort built on Project Gutenberg's transcriptions of the Catalog of Copyright Entries, which was published by the U.S. Copyright Office. (Project Gutenberg——produces free electronic books.)

"This database is an important tool for anyone researching the copyright status of U.S. works," said Stanford attorney Lauren Schoenthaler. "Having a single, electronic source for all renewals for these works will greatly speed the research process."

Determining the copyright status of books has become a pressing issue as libraries and businesses develop plans to digitize materials and make works in the public domain widely available. In order to appropriately select books for digitization, these organizations need to determine efficiently and with some certainty the copyright status of each work in a large collection. The Determinator supports this process, bringing all 1923-1963 book-renewal records together in a single database and, more significantly, making searchable renewal records that had previously been distributed only in print.

U.S. works published from 1923 to 1963 are the only group of works for which renewal is now a concern. Renewals have expired for works published before 1923, and they are generally in the public domain. The 1976 Copyright Act made renewal automatic for works published after Jan. 1, 1964. Determining the renewal status of works published between 1923 and 1963 has been a challenge; the Copyright Office received renewals as early as 1950, but only records received by that office after 1977 are available in electronic form. Renewals received between 1950 and 1977 were announced and distributed only in a semi-annual print publication. For the Determinator databases, Stanford has converted the print records to machine-readable form and combined them with the electronic renewal records from the Copyright Office.

SULAIR continues to refine the database and welcomes feedback. Contact Mimi Calter at with questions or comments.



Mimi Calter, Office of the University Librarian: (650) 725-5813,

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