Copyright status of Jack Benny Television Shows

1/25/10 update:  Here's the response from the lawyer, Attorney Bob Mabry:

1.   "Unpublished" TV programs, which had been protected by the 1909-1977 copyright act, reverted to public domain status January 1, 2003, if they had not been retroactively copyrighted between January 1, 1978 and December 31, 2002. Broadcast does not equal publication. Authorized distribution of copies, among other things, would be publication.

2.    Looking at your list of show dates on your web page, assuming that you are correct to say that they were properly registered on or very shortly after their show dates, but not renewed, those shows, in themselves, are in the public domain under American law.

A number of the forums discussing the issue around the CBS masters have evolved into extensive copyright discussions.  Before I say anything else, I want to underscore that I am not a lawyer and cannot give authoritative answers about copyrights.  That said, I can read the copyright catalog, and did so a number of years ago to see what was registered and renewed.  I was planning on publishing this information in Volume 3 of 39 Forever, but with all the discussion and speculation, I thought it would be good to provide the facts that I have about the shows.

A lawyer recently volunteered pro bono work to the IJBFC, and I have asked him to validate my understanding that if a work was never registered for copyright, that it became public domain 28 years from broadcast.  There are larger questions about whether broadcast constitutes "publication", and I can't claim enough information to authoritatively answer that question.  So that's why I turned it over to the lawyer.  But that said, there are a lot of shows that were never registered that have been circulating for years on various disc sets with no sublicense.  Does that indicate abandonment of copyright, if it even existed in the first place?  Again, I can't answer that question.

So here it is, the copyright information on each episode of the Jack Benny television program.  "Expired" means that the copyright was registered, usually on or around the broadcast date, and then not renewed.

Date Copyright status
10/28/1950 Never registered
1/28/1951 Never registered
4/5/1951 Never registered
5/20/1951 Never registered
11/4/1951 Never registered
12/16/1951 Never registered
1/27/1952 Never registered
3/9/1952 Never registered
4/20/1952 Never registered
6/1/1952 Never registered
10/5/1952 Never registered
11/2/1952 Never registered
11/30/1952 Never registered
12/28/1952 Never registered
1/25/1953 Never registered
3/22/1953 Never registered
4/19/1953 Never registered
5/17/1953 Never registered
6/13/1953 Never registered
10/4/1953 Never registered
10/25/1953 Never registered
11/15/1953 Never registered
12/6/1953 Never registered
12/27/1953 Never registered
1/17/1954 Never registered
2/7/1954 Never registered
2/28/1954 Never registered
3/21/1954 Never registered
4/11/1954 Never registered
5/2/1954 Never registered
5/23/1954 Never registered
10/3/1954 Never registered
10/17/1954 Never registered
10/31/1954 Never registered
11/14/1954 Never registered
11/28/1954 Never registered
12/12/1954 Never registered
12/26/1954 Never registered
1/9/1955 Never registered
1/23/1955 Never registered
2/6/1955 Never registered
2/20/1955 Never registered
3/6/1955 Never registered
3/20/1955 Never registered
4/3/1955 Never registered
4/17/1955 Never registered
5/1/1955 Never registered
9/25/1955 Never registered
10/9/1955 Expired 10-9-83
10/23/1955 Never registered
11/6/1955 Expired 11-6-83
11/20/1955 Never registered
12/4/1955 Expired 12-4-83
12/18/1955 Never registered
1/1/1956 Never registered
1/15/1956 Expired 1-15-84
1/29/1956 Never registered
2/12/1956 Never registered
2/26/1956 Renewed 8-26-83
3/11/1956 Renewed 8-26-83
3/25/1956 Never registered
4/8/1956 Never registered
4/22/1956 Never registered
9/23/1956 Never registered
10/7/1956 Never registered
10/21/1956 Never registered
11/4/1956 Expired 7-16-84
11/18/1956 Never registered
12/2/1956 Expired 12-2-84
12/16/1956 Never registered
12/30/1956 Never registered
1/13/1957 Renewed 7-17-84
1/27/1957 Never registered
2/10/1957 Never registered
2/24/1957 Never registered
3/10/1957 Renewed 9-9-85
3/24/1957 Expired 3-24-85
4/7/1957 Expired 7-16-84
4/21/1957 Never registered
9/22/1957 Never registered
10/6/1957 Never registered
10/20/1957 Never registered
11/3/1957 Expired 11-3-85
11/17/1957 Never registered
12/1/1957 Expired 12-1-85
12/15/1957 Never registered
12/29/1957 Never registered
1/12/1958 Expired 1-12-86
1/26/1958 Never registered
2/9/1958 Expired 2-9-86
2/23/1958 Never registered
3/9/1958 Never registered
3/23/1958 Expired 3-23-86
4/6/1958 Never registered
4/20/1958 Expired 4-20-86
9/21/1958 Never registered
10/5/1958 Never registered
10/19/1958 Never registered
11/2/1958 Never registered
11/16/1958 Never registered
11/30/1958 Expired 11-30-86
12/14/1958 Never registered
12/28/1958 Never registered
1/11/1959 Never registered
1/25/1959 Never registered
2/8/1959 Expired 2-8-87
2/22/1959 Never registered
3/8/1959 Never registered
3/22/1959 Expired 3-22-87
4/5/1959 Never registered
10/4/1959 Never registered
10/18/1959 Never registered
11/1/1959 Never registered
11/15/1959 Expired 11-15-87
11/29/1959 Never registered
12/13/1959 Expired 12-13-87
12/27/1959 Never registered
1/10/1960 Renewed 4-14-87
1/24/1960 Never registered
2/7/1960 Never registered
2/21/1960 Renewed 11-21-88
3/6/1960 Never registered
4/3/1960 Expired 4-3-88
4/17/1960 Never registered
5/1/1960 Never registered
10/16/1960 Never registered
10/23/1960 Never registered
10/30/1960 Never registered
11/6/1960 Never registered
11/20/1960 Never registered
11/27/1960 Never registered
12/4/1960 Never registered
12/11/1960 Never registered
12/18/1960 Never registered
12/25/1960 Never registered
1/1/1961 Never registered
1/8/1961 Never registered
1/15/1961 Never registered
1/22/1961 Renewed 11-21-88
1/29/1961 Renewed 11-21-88
2/5/1961 Never registered
2/12/1961 Renewed 11-21-88
2/19/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
2/26/1961 Renewed 11-21-88
3/5/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
3/12/1961 Renewed 11-21-88
3/19/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
3/26/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
4/2/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
4/9/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
4/16/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
10/15/1961 Never registered
10/22/1961 Never registered
11/5/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
11/12/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
11/19/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
11/26/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
12/3/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
12/10/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
12/17/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
12/24/1961 Never registered
12/31/1961 Renewed 12-20-89
1/7/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
1/14/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
1/21/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
1/28/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
2/4/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
2/11/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
2/18/1962 Never registered
3/4/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
3/11/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
3/18/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
3/25/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
4/1/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
4/8/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
4/15/1962 Renewed 12-20-89
4/22/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
9/25/1962 Never registered
10/2/1962 Never registered
10/9/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
10/16/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
10/23/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
10/30/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
11/6/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
11/13/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
11/20/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
11/27/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
12/4/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
12/11/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
12/18/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
12/25/1962 Renewed 12-12-90
1/1/1963 Renewed 12-12-90
1/8/1963 Renewed 12-12-90
1/15/1963 Renewed 12-12-90
1/22/1963 Renewed 12-12-90
1/29/1963 Never registered
2/5/1963 Never registered
2/12/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
2/19/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
2/26/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
3/5/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
3/12/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
3/19/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
3/26/1963 Renewed 12-12-90
4/2/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
4/9/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
9/24/1963 Never registered
10/1/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
10/8/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
10/15/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
10/22/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
10/29/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
11/5/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
11/19/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
11/26/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
12/3/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
12/10/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
12/24/1963 Renewed 11-15-91
12/31/1963 Never registered
1/7/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
1/14/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
1/21/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
1/28/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
2/4/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
2/11/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
2/18/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
2/25/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
3/3/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
3/17/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
3/24/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
3/31/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
4/7/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
4/14/1964 Renewed 11-15-91
4/21/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
9/25/1964 Never registered
10/2/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
10/9/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
10/16/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
10/23/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
10/30/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
11/6/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
11/13/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
11/20/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
11/27/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
12/4/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
12/11/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
12/18/1964 Renewed 12-8-92
12/25/1964 Never registered
1/8/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
1/22/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
1/29/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
2/5/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
2/12/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
2/19/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
2/26/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
3/5/1965 Renewed 12-8-92
3/12/1965 Renewed 8-18-93
3/19/1965 Renewed 8-18-93
3/26/1965 Renewed 8-18-93
4/2/1965 Renewed 8-18-93
4/9/1965 Renewed 8-18-93
4/16/1965 Renewed 8-18-93