Copyright Basics

How long does copyright last?

Copyright protection applies for a finite period of time. This period varies, depending on the type of subject matter and when it was created.

On 1 January 2019 the duration of copyright protection in Australia was standardised. This means that, in general, all literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works now have a standard term of protection: the life of the author plus 70 years, regardless of whether the material has been made public (previously unpublished works were protected for an indefinite time). For works where the author is unknown as well as sound and film recordings, copyright will now last for 70 years after creation, unless those materials are made public within 50 years of creation, in which case copyright will subsist for 70 years after being made public (previously copyright lasted for 70 years from the year of first publication). For published editions, copyright will last 25 years after the expiration of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.

On 1 January 2005 the duration of copyright changed. The tables below set out the current and pre-1 January 2005 term of copyright protection.

Current term of copyright protection

a. Works

Types of Copyright Material Current Term
Literary works (including unpublished works) Lifetime of author plus 70 years
Artistic works (including unpublished works) Lifetime of author plus 70 years
Dramatic works Lifetime of author plus 70 years
Musical works Lifetime of author plus 70 years

b. Works – exceptions

Types of Copyright Material Current Term
Works first made public before 1 January 2019
Where the author was known but has died and the work was made public after the author died 70 years after the calendar year in which the work was first made public
Where the identity of the author of the work is not generally known at any time before the end of the 70 years after the calendar year in which the work was first made public 70 years after the calendar year in which the work was first made public
Works not first made public before 1 January 2019
Pseudonyms and anonymous names 70 years after creation or the work was made public , unless it is made public within 50 years of creation, in which case copyright last for 70 years after being made or made public

c. Subject matter other than works

Types of Copyright Material Current Term
Sound recording and films 70 years after creation, unless it is made public within 50 years of creation, in which case copyright last for 70 years after being made public
Published editions 25 years after the expiration of the calendar year in which the edition was first published
 

 

Television and radio broadcasts

50 years after the expiration of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made

d. Crown copyright

Types of Copyright Material Current Term
Literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, films or sound recordings made under the direction of the Crown 50 years after the expiration of the calendar year in which the work was made

 

Pre-1 January 2005 term of copyright protection (note that the period of copyright protection changed on 1 January 2005). Use this table to determine if a work was still in copyright on 1 January 2005)

e. Works

Types of Copyright Material Previous Term
Literary works Lifetime of author plus 50 years or 50 years after the date the work was first published, performed in public or broadcast (whichever is the later)
Artistic works (except photographs) Lifetime of author plus 50 years or 50 years after the date the work was first published, performed in public or broadcast (whichever is the later)
Dramatic works Lifetime of author plus 50 years or 50 years after the date the work was first published, performed in public or broadcast (whichever is the later)
Musical works Lifetime of author plus 50 years or 50 years after the date the work was first published, performed in public or broadcast (whichever is the later)

f. Works – exceptions

Types of Copyright Material Previous Term
Photographs 50 years from end of year photograph taken
Unpublished photographs 50 years from end of the year work first published (whenever that may be)
Anonymous works 50 years from end of year work first published

g. Subject matter other than works

Types of Copyright Material Previous Term
Films 50 years from end of year film first released
Sound recordings 50 years from end of year recording first released
Published editions 25 years from end of year work first published

Is the work still in copyright?

For literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works you must first determine if the author is dead or alive:

  • if the author is still alive, the material is still in copyright.
  • if the author is dead, the material will be out of copyright if the author died over 70 years ago and may be out of copyright if the author died less than 70 years ago.

For all other works (sound recordings, film and broadcasts), the maker’s death does not matter and you must determine when the material was created and if and when it was first made public.

Just because a work is still in copyright, does not mean you cannot copy it. A statutory or voluntary licence or educational copyright exception may apply.

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