Duration of copyright

Copyright lasts for specific periods determined by the category of the material.

See Protected material for a list of the two main categories and what they include.

Once copyright has expired the material enters the public domain and may be used without obtaining permission. The copyright period cannot be extended or renewed.

  • In general, copyright protection for published literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works (other than photographs) lasts until the end of the calendar year the author dies plus 70 years [Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) s 33(2)].
  • If literary, dramatic or musical works (or engravings) are unpublished when the author dies, copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work is first published, performed in public, broadcast or offered for sale [ss 33(3) and (5)]. This means that copyright continues indefinitely for these literary, dramatic and musical works.
  • Copyright in computer programs and artistic works (other than photographs and engravings) expires 50 years after the death of the author whether published or unpublished;
  • If a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, and the identity of the author cannot be ascertained by reasonable enquiry, the protection period is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published [s 34];
  • The copyright in photographs taken after 1 May 1969 lasts for fifty years after first publication [ss 33(2),(6)]. A photograph taken after that date is protected indefinitely so long as it remains unpublished.
  • Copyright in sound recordings and films made after 1 May 1969 continues for fifty years after publication [s 93, s 94]. Again, copyright continues so long as the material remains unpublished.
  • Copyright in a television or sound broadcast lasts for fifty years from the year in which the broadcast was made [s 95].
  • Published edition copyright lasts for twenty five years from first publication [s 96].
  • Different protection periods may apply to material that the government is entitled to own [s 180 - 181].

For some materials the duration of copyright may vary depending upon whether it was made before or after 1 May 1969, the commencement of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Before that date, the protection period for photographs is fifty years from the year it was taken [s. 212]. For sound recordings made before 1 May 1969 the period is 50 years from the year it was made [s 220(3)]. Films, broadcasts and published editions were not included as categories of protected material before commencement of the current Act. Older films, however, may be protected to a certain extent as dramatic works or photographs [s 222].

The period of protection is always calculated from the end of the relevant calendar year. When reference is made to the life of the author the period is calculated on the author's life even though the copyright may be owned by someone else. Copyright will in many cases last longer than the life of the author or owner of copyright. It is property that can be dealt with under the copyright owner's will.

Duration of copyright  :  Last Revised: Mon Jul 2nd 2012
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