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Can I Abandon a Copyright?

Copyright protects works of authorship and, in the U.S., subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form (see Copyright Protection in One Easy Lesson).

Demonstration in Sweden in support of file sharing, 2006

Demonstration in Sweden in support of file sharing, 2006

In certain circles, however, there is fervent opposition to copyright (see the Wikipedia entry for Anti-copyright).

Suppose that an anti-copyright author wants to abandon the copyrights in his works. (Sometimes this also is called dedicating work to the public domain.) Can he do so under U.S. law?

Although there is no statutory basis for abandonment, there is widely-accepted case law stating that a copyright owner may abandon his copyright by an overt act that manifests a purpose to surrender his rights to the work and let the public copy it.

An example of language that should satisfy this requirement is provided by the Creative Commons CC0 Waiver:

To the greatest extent permitted by, but not in contravention of, applicable law, Affirmer hereby overtly, fully, permanently, irrevocably and unconditionally waives, abandons, and surrenders all of Affirmer’s Copyright and Related Rights and associated claims and causes of action, whether now known or unknown (including existing as well as future claims and causes of action), in the Work (i) in all territories worldwide, (ii) for the maximum duration provided by applicable law or treaty (including future time extensions), (iii) in any current or future medium and for any number of copies, and (iv) for any purpose whatsoever, including without limitation commercial, advertising or promotional purposes (the “Waiver”). Affirmer makes the Waiver for the benefit of each member of the public at large and to the detriment of Affirmer’s heirs and successors, fully intending that such Waiver shall not be subject to revocation, rescission, cancellation, termination, or any other legal or equitable action to disrupt the quiet enjoyment of the Work by the public as contemplated by Affirmer’s express Statement of Purpose.

Bottom line: One cannot abandon a copyright accidentally or halfheartedly; one must intentionally express an unambiguous desire to abandon the copyright and make the work available to members of the public to use as they see fit.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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