Magazine Copyright Laws

Updated July 19, 2017

Technically speaking, once a magazine comes off the press, the issue and all its contents are copyrighted. However, to enforce the copyright in a court of law, the magazine's publisher must register each edition with the U.S. Copyright Office. If the magazine uses freelancers for some photos and stories, the copyright laws vary slightly in terms of the length of time the copyright can be enforced, but in most cases the magazine, according to the terms of the contract, owns the copyright to this material.

Copyrighting Magazines

Magazines are a collection of various types of content, including advertising, print stories, photographs and sometimes illustrations. While each item can be copyrighted individually, it is more common and more economical for the publisher to copyright each issue of a magazine as a collection by visiting the U.S. Copyright Office website, filling out the appropriate form, attaching the appropriate fee and sending it with an electronic or hard copy of the magazine to the Copyright Office.

Ownership of Copyright

The magazine publisher owns the copyright for the magazine and any content in it unless otherwise specified in a contract with a freelance writer, freelance photographer or advertising agency. If a freelancer or agency maintains the copyright of any content of the magazine, then that party must register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office to protect that copyright in court.

Length, or Term, of Copyright

Content copyrighted by the person who created it--the freelance writer, photographer or artist--is protected by copyright for 70 years after the death of that person. Other content is deemed work-for-hire and protected under copyright for 120 years after its creation or 95 years after its publication, whichever comes first.

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About the Author

Josh Shear began writing professionally in 1999. He has been an editor at Reminder Publications and project coordinator at the daily online news site He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Western New England College, and took graduate courses in mass media theory at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.