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Third General Revision of U.S. Copyright Law

Enacted by the Sixtieth Congress on March 4, 1909

Excerpts from the Original, Unamended 1909 Act

This series reprints for your examination the actual copyright laws of the United States through 1909. In order to ascertain whether someone back then "stole" or "plagiarized" from others, one has to determine what was considered "stealing" and what was not. While a copyrighted book might be able to be stolen, a book already in the public domain could not be.

Because of the length of the 1909 Copyright Act, only the pertinent excerpts appear on this page, while the entire Act may be viewed here.

A brief discussion and summary follows the law below.

We have highlighted in yellow the pertinent portions of the law. To remove this highlighting, click .

AN ACT to amend and consolidate the acts respecting copyright.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person entitled thereto, upon complying with the provisions of this Act, shall have the exclusive right:

(a) To print, reprint, publish, copy, and vend the copyrighted work;

(b) To translate the copyrighted work into other languages or dialects, or make any other version thereof, if it be a literary work; to dramatize it if it be a nondramatic work; to convert it into a novel or other nondramatic work if it be a drama; to arrange or adapt it if it be a musical work; to complete, execute, and finish it if it be a model or design for a work of art;

(c) To deliver or authorize the delivery of the copyrighted work in public for profit if it be a lecture, sermon, address, or similar production; . . . .

SEC. 2. That nothing in this Act shall be construed to annul or limit the right of the author or proprietor of an unpublished work, at common law or in equity, to prevent the copying, publication, or use of such unpublished work without his consent, and to obtain damages therefor.

SEC. 3. That the copyright provided by this Act shall protect all the copyrightable component parts of the work copyrighted, and all matter therein in which copyright is already subsisting, but without extending the duration or scope of such copyright. The copyright upon composite works or periodicals shall give to the proprietor thereof all the rights in respect thereto which he would have if each part were individually copyrighted under this Act.

SEC. 4. That the works for which copyright may be secured under this Act shall include all the writings of an author.

SEC. 5. That the application for registration shall specify to which of the following classes the work in which copyright is claimed belongs:

(a) Books, including composite and cyclopædic works, directories, gazetteers, and other compilations;

(b) Periodicals, including newspapers;

(c) Lectures, sermons, addresses, prepared for oral delivery;

(d) Dramatic or dramatico-musical compositions;

(e) Musical compositions;

(f) Maps;

(g) Works of art; models or designs for works of art;

(h) Reproductions of a work of art;

(i) Drawings or plastic works of a scientific or technical character;

(j) Photographs;

(k) Prints and pictorial illustrations:

Provided, nevertheless, That the above specifications shall not be held to limit the subject-matter of copyright as defined in section four of this Act, nor shall any error in classification invalidate or impair the copyright protection secured under this Act.

SEC. 6. That compilations or abridgements, adaptations, arrangements, dramatizations, translations, or other versions of works in the public domain, or of copyrighted works when produced with the consent of the proprietor of the copyright in such work, or works republished with new matter, shall be regarded as new works subject to copyright under the provisions of this Act; but the publication of any such new works shall not affect the force or validity of any subsisting copyright upon the matter employed or any part thereof, or be construed to imply an exclusive right to such use of the original works, or to secure or extend copyright in such original works.

SEC. 7. That no copyright shall subsist in the original text of any work which is in the public domain, or in any work which was published in this country or any foreign country prior to the going into effect of this Act and has not been already copyrighted in the United States, or in any publication of the United States Government, or any reprint, in whole or in part, thereof: Provided, however, That the publication or republication by the Government, either separately or in a public document, of any material in which copyright is subsisting shall not be taken to cause any abridgement or annulment of the copyright or to authorize any use or appropriation of such copyright material without the consent of the copyright proprietor.

SEC. 8. That the author or proprietor of any work made the subject of copyright by this Act, or his executors, administrators, or assigns, shall have copyright for such work under the conditions and for the terms specified in this Act: Provided, however, That the copyright secured by this Act shall extend to the work of an author or proprietor who is a citizen or subject of a foreign state or nation, only:

(a) When an alien author or proprietor shall be domiciled within the United States at the time of the first publication of his work; or

(b) When the foreign state or nation of which such author or proprietor is a citizen or subject grants, either by treaty, convention, agreement, or law, to citizens of the United States the benefit of copyright on substantially the same basis as to its own citizens, or copyright protection substantially equal to the protection secured to such foreign author under this Act or by treaty; or when such foreign state or nation is a party to an international agreement which provides for reciprocity in the granting of copyright, by the terms of which agreement the United States may, at its pleasure, become a party thereto.

The existence of the reciprocal conditions aforesaid shall be determined by the President of the United States, by proclamation made from time to time, as the purposes of this Act may require.

SEC. 9. That any person entitled thereto by this Act may secure copyright for his work by publication thereof with the notice of copyright required by this Act; and such notice shall be affixed to each copy thereof published or offered for sale in the United States by authority of the copyright proprietor, except in the case of books seeking ad interim protection under section twenty-one of this Act.

SEC. 10. That such person may obtain registration of his claim to copyright by complying with the provisions of this Act, including the deposit of copies, and upon such compliance the register of copyrights shall issue to him the certificate provided for in section fifty-five of this Act.

SEC. 11. That copyright may also be had of the works of an author of which copies are not reproduced for sale, by the deposit, with claim of copyright, of one complete copy of such work if it be a lecture or similar production or a dramatic or musical composition; of a photographic print if the work be a photograph; or of a photograph or other identifying reproduction thereof if it be a work of art or a plastic work or drawing. But the privilege of registration of copyright secured hereunder shall not exempt the copyright proprietor from the deposit of copies under sections twelve and thirteen of this Act where the work is later reproduced in copies for sale.

SEC. 12. That after copyright has been secured by publication of the work with the notice of copyright as provided in section nine of this Act, there shall be promptly deposited in the copyright office or in the mail addressed to the register of copyrights, Washington, District of Columbia, two complete copies of the best edition thereof then published, which copies, if the work be a book or periodical, shall have been produced in accordance with the manufacturing provisions specified in section fifteen of this Act; or if such work be a contribution to a periodical, for which contribution special registration is requested, one copy of the issue or issues containing such contribution; or if the work is not reproduced in copies for sale, there shall be deposited the copy, print, photograph, or other identifying reproduction provided by section eleven of this Act, such copies or copy, print, photograph, or other reproduction to be accompanied in each case by a claim of copyright. No action or proceeding shall be maintained for infringement of copyright in any work until the provisions of this Act with respect to the deposit of copies and registration of such work shall have been complied with.

SEC. 13. That should the copies called for by section twelve of this Act not be promptly deposited as herein provided, the register of copyrights may at any time after the publication of the work, upon actual notice, require the proprietor of the copyright to deposit them, and after the said demand shall have been made, in default of the deposit of copies of the work within three months from any part of the United States, except an outlying territorial possession of the United States, or within six months from any outlying territorial possession of the United States, or from any foreign country, the proprietor of the copyright shall be liable to a fine of one hundred dollars and to pay to the Library of Congress twice the amount of the retail price of the best edition of the work, and the copyright shall become void.

SEC. 14. That the postmaster to whom are delivered the articles deposited as provided in sections eleven and twelve of this Act shall, if requested, give a receipt therefor and shall mail them to their destination without cost to the copyright claimant.

SEC. 15. That of the printed book or periodical specified in section five, subsections (a) and (b) of this Act, except the original text of a book of foreign origin in a language or languages other than English, the text of all copies accorded protection under this Act, except as below provided, shall be printed from type set within the limits of the United States, either by hand or by the aid of any kind of typesetting machine, or from plates made within the limits of the United States from type set therein, or, if the text be produced by lithographic process, or photoengraving process, then by a process wholly performed within the limits of the United States, and the printing of the text and binding of the said book shall be performed within the limits of the United States; which requirements shall extend also to the illustrations within a book consisting of printed text and illustrations produced by lithographic process, or photo-engraving process, and also to separate lithographs or photo-engravings, except where in either case the subjects represented are located in a foreign country and illustrate a scientific work or reproduce a work of art; but they shall not apply to works in raised characters for the use of the blind, or to books of foreign origin in a language or languages other than English, or to books published abroad in the English language seeking ad interim protection under this Act. . . .

SEC. 18. That the notice of copyright required by section nine of this Act shall consist either of the word "Copyright" or the abbreviation "Copr.", accompanied by the name of the copyright proprietor, and if the work be a printed literary, musical, or dramatic work, the notice shall include also the year in which the copyright was secured by publication. In the case, however, of copies of works specified in subsections (f) to (k), inclusive, of section five of this Act, the notice may consist of the letter C inclosed within a circle, thus: © accompanied by the initials, monogram, mark, or symbol of the copyright proprietor: Provided, That on some accessible portion of such copies or of the margin, back, permanent base, or pedestal, or of the substance on which such copies shall be mounted, his name shall appear. But in the case of works in which copyright is subsisting when this Act shall go into effect, the notice of copyright may be either in one of the forms prescribed herein or in one of those prescribed by the Act of June eighteenth, eighteen hundred and seventy-four.

SEC. 19. That the notice of copyright shall be applied, in the case of a book or other printed publication, upon its title-page or the page immediately following, or if a periodical either upon the title-page or upon the first page of text of each separate number or under the title heading, or if a musical work either upon its title-page or the first page of music: Provided, That one notice of copyright in each volume or in each number of a newspaper or periodical published shall suffice.

SEC. 20. That where the copyright proprietor has sought to comply with the provisions of this Act with respect to notice, the omission by accident or mistake of the prescribed notice from a particular copy or copies shall not invalidate the copyright or prevent recovery for infringement against any person who, after actual notice of the copyright, begins an undertaking to infringe it, but shall prevent the recovery of damages against an innocent infringer who has been misled by the omission of the notice; and in a suit for infringement no permanent injunction shall be had unless the copyright proprietor shall reimburse to the innocent infringer his reasonable outlay innocently incurred if the court, in its discretion, shall so direct.

SEC. 21. That in the case of a book published abroad in the English language before publication in this country, the deposit in the copyright office, not later than thirty days after its publication abroad, of one complete copy of the foreign edition, with a request for the reservation of the copyright and a statement of the name and nationality of the author and of the copyright proprietor and of the date of publication of the said book, shall secure to the author or proprietor an ad interim copyright, which shall have all the force and effect given to copyright by this Act, and shall endure until the expiration of thirty days after such deposit in the copyright office.

SEC. 22. That whenever within the period of such ad interim protection an authorized edition of such book shall be published within the United States, in accordance with the manufacturing provisions specified in section fifteen of this Act, and whenever the provisions of this Act as to deposit of copies, registration, filing of affidavit, and the printing of the copyright notice shall have been duly complied with, the copyright shall be extended to endure in such book for the full term elsewhere provided in this Act.

SEC. 23. That the copyright secured by this Act shall endure for twenty-eight years from the date of first publication, whether the copyrighted work bears the author's true name or is published anonymously or under an assumed name: Provided, That in the case of any posthumous work or of any periodical, cyclopædic, or other composite work upon which the copyright was originally secured by the proprietor thereof, or of any work copyrighted by a corporate body (otherwise than as assignee or licensee of the individual author) or by an employer for whom such work is made for hire, the proprietor of such copyright shall be entitled to a renewal and extension of the copyright in such work for the further term of twenty-eight years when application for such renewal and extension shall have been made to the copyright office and duly registered therein within one year prior to the expiration of the original term of copyright: And provided further, That in the case of any other copyrighted work, including a contribution by an individual author to a periodical or to a cyclopædic or other composite work when such contribution has been separately registered, the author of such work, if still living, or the widow, widower, or children of the author, if the author be not living, or if such author, widow, widower, or children be not living, then the authors executors, or in the absence of a will, his next of kin shall be entitled to a renewal and extension of the copyright in such work for a further term of twenty-eight years when application for such renewal and extension shall have been made to the copyright office and duly registered therein within one year prior to the expiration of the original term of copyright: And provided further, That in default of the registration of such application for renewal and extension, the copyright in any work shall determine at the expiration of twenty-eight years from first publication.

SEC. 24. That the copyright subsisting in any work at the time when this Act goes into effect may, at the expiration of the term provided for under existing law, be renewed and extended by the author of such work if still living, or the widow, widower, or children of the author, if the author be not living, or if such author, widow, widower, or children be not living, then by the authors executors, or in the absence of a will, his next of kin, for a further period such that the entire term shall be equal to that secured by this Act, including the renewal period: Provided, however, That if the work be a composite work upon which copyright was originally secured by the proprietor thereof, then such proprietor shall be entitled to the privilege of renewal and extension granted under this section: Provided, That application for such renewal and extension shall be made to the copyright office and duly registered therein within one year prior to the expiration of the existing term. . . .

SEC. 31. That during the existence of the American copyright in any book the importation into the United States of any piratical copies thereof or of any copies thereof (although authorized by the author or proprietor) which have not been produced in accordance with the manufacturing provisions specified in section fifteen of this Act, or any plates of the same not made from type set within the limits of the United States, or any copies thereof produced by lithographic or photo-engraving process not performed within the limits of the United States, in accordance with the provisions of section fifteen of this Act, shall be, and is hereby, prohibited: Provided, however, That, except as regards piratical copies, such prohibition shall not apply:

(a) To works in raised characters for the use of the blind;

(b) To a foreign newspaper or magazine, although containing matter copyrighted in the United States printed or reprinted by authority of the copyright proprietor, unless such newspaper or magazine contains also copyright matter printed or reprinted without such authorization;

(c) To the authorized edition of a book in a foreign language or languages of which only a translation into English has been copyrighted in this country;

(d) To any book published abroad with the authorization of the author or copyright proprietor when imported under the circumstances stated in one of the four subdivisions following, that is to say:

First. When imported, not more than one copy at one time, for individual use and not for sale; but such privilege of importation shall not extend to a foreign reprint of a book by an American author copyrighted in the United States;

Second. When imported by the authority or for the use of the United States;

Third. When imported, for use and not for sale, not more than one copy of any such book in any one invoice, in good faith, by or for any society or institution incorporated for educational, literary, philosophical, scientific, or religious purposes, or for the encouragement of the fine arts, or for any college, academy, school, or seminary of learning, or for any State, school, college, university, or free public library in the United States;

Fourth. When such books form parts of libraries or collections purchased en bloc for the use of societies, institutions, or libraries designated in the foregoing paragraph, or form parts of the libraries or personal baggage belonging to persons or families arriving from foreign countries and are not intended for sale: Provided, That copies imported as above may not lawfully be used in any way to violate the rights of the proprietor of the American copyright or annul or limit the copyright protection secured by this Act, and such unlawful use shall be deemed an infringement of copyright. . . .

SEC. 39. That no criminal proceeding shall be maintained under the provisions of this Act unless the same is commenced within three years after the cause of action arose. . . .

SEC. 42. That copyright secured under this or previous Acts of the United States may be assigned, granted, or mortgaged by an instrument in writing signed by the proprietor of the copyright, or may be bequeathed by will.

SEC. 43. That every assignment of copyright executed in a foreign country shall be acknowledged by the assignor before a consular officer or secretary of legation of the United States authorized by law to administer oaths or perform notarial acts. The certificate of such acknowledgement under the hand and official seal of such consular officer or secretary of legation shall be prima facie evidence of the execution of the instrument.

SEC. 44. That every assignment of copyright shall be recorded in the copyright office within three calendar months after its execution in the United States or within six calendar months after its execution without the limits of the United States, in default of which it shall be void as against any subsequent purchaser or mortgagee for a valuable consideration, without notice, whose assignment has been duly recorded. . . .

SEC. 62. That in the interpretation and construction of this Act "the date of publication" shall in the case of a work of which copies are reproduced for sale or distribution be held to be the earliest date when copies of the first authorized edition were placed on sale, sold, or publicly distributed by the proprietor of the copyright or under his authority, and the word "author" shall include an employer in the case of works made for hire.

SEC. 63. That all laws or parts of laws, in conflict with the provisions of this Act are hereby repealed, but nothing in this Act shall affect causes of action for infringement of copyright heretofore committed now pending in courts of the United States, or which may hereafter be instituted; but such causes shall be prosecuted to a conclusion in the manner heretofore provided by law.

SEC. 64. That this Act shall go into effect on the first day or July, nineteen hundred and nine.

Approved, March 4, 1909.

[60th Congress, 2d session.]

The principal difference we wish to notice between the 1909 Act and previous U.S. copyright law is the prohibition against the making derivative works of books without the author's permission:

  1. That any person entitled thereto . . . shall have the exclusive right: . . . To translate the copyrighted work into other languages or dialects, or make any other version thereof, if it be a literary work . . . .—Sec. 1.

    That compilations or abridgements, adaptations, arrangements, dramatizations, translations, or other versions of works in the public domain, or of copyrighted works when produced with the consent of the proprietor of the copyright in such work, or works republished with new matter, shall be regarded as new works subject to copyright under the provisions of this Act . . . .—Sec. 6.

Thus what was once considered perfectly legal is now prohibited. Additionally:

  1. The possible extension has been lengthened from 14 years to 28 years, but the length of the inital term remains the same at 28 years.
  2. The statute of limitations is now three years instead of two.

Unlike present U.S. Copyright law:

  1. A copyright notice had to be inserted in one's book.
  2. The specified number of copies of the book had to be deposited with the copyright office within the stated time period (three or six months).
  3. Books in English first published abroad had to be deposited within 30 days, and then had but 30 days to be published in America before copyright protection ceased.
  4. All copies of books in English sold and distributed within the U.S. had to be typeset and printed within her borders.

The above page was found at https://www.TruthOrFables.net/copyright_law_us_1909_excerpts.htm on April 18, 2024.

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