The 1976 Copyright Act protects a written work for the life of the

author plus fifty years. One policy behind this time period is to make it

easier for third parties to compute the period of protection. At least

one commentator has suggested that this provides a legal theory on

which to base an author’s right to credit.

When an author writes and sells a screenplay,” the copyright to the

screenplay terminates fifty years after the author’s death, at which point

any member of the public has the right to produce a film based upon it.

Failure to identify the author in the credits frustrates attempts by third

parties to determine the date of the unknown author’s demise, and thus

the date of the screenplay’s expiration of copyright.

It can thus be argued that an express provision in a contract permitting

the producer to omit the author’s name is unenforceable because it

violates the policy underlying the 1976 Copyright Act. Although this

approach has not yet been formally adopted in any case law, it appears to

be firmly rooted in the intent of the statute.