January 1, 1978, the long-awaited, much-debated revision of the U.S. copyright law became effective. The new law is strongly proauthor in all aspects. Authors' rights that previously were recognized only by common law now have statutory protection; specifically, the author's copyright is protected by statute from the moment of creation of the work and is not dependent on publication. Furthermore, the law requires specific and formal transfer of rights from the author to anyone desiring to reproduce the work in any form.
This requirement for formal transfer simply underscores the proprietary rights of the author and is a fair and just provision of the law where an author's livelihood is at stake. However, the provision could cripple the wide dissemination of scientific information. There are many questions about how strictly some clauses of the law will be interpreted by the courts. But some of the practices that have become a necessary part of the science information system that could be hampered by provisions in the new law are indexing and abstracting services, cover-to-cover and single-article translations, republishing in different media, and photocopying beyond that allowed by the strict limits of the law. In short, the law seems to say that specific rights from the author will be required for any reproduction other than the onetime use implied by the author's original submission of his work for consideration by a publisher.