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How long does copyright last?

The 70 year rule

For literary, dramatic and musical works that were published during the lifetime of the author, copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. For published sound recordings and films, the duration of copyright is 70 years from the end of the year in which the recording or film was published. Where such items remain unpublished, the copyright term may not commence until publication takes place. In contrast, for artistic works, copyright lasts for the life of the artist plus seventy years, and publication status is irrelevant.

The 70 year copyright terms above came into effect on 1 January 2005 when the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) amendments were made to the Copyright Act. The previous terms were generally 50 years and the 2005 changes were not applied retrospectively or to government publications. To calculate the copyright status of older works, find out if the period of copyright protection expired by 1 January 2005. For example, if an author died prior to 1 January 1955, works published during his or her lifetime are now out of copyright because the 50 year period of copyright protection elapsed by 1 January 2005. For more information on calculating the duration of copyright see the Australian Copyright Council's information sheet Duration of copyright.

Some of the key principles for calculating the duration of copyright are summarised in the table below.


Key rules

The Copyright Act contains provisions regarding the term of copyright; some of the key rules are set out in the table below. Once copyright in an item expires, there are no longer any copyright-related restrictions on its use. This is sometimes referred to as being in the public domain. That said, the Library may restrict certain uses of public domain materials for other reasons, such as donor restrictions or fragility.

Calculating the copyright term for a given work can be complicated because copyright legislation has changed over time. For instance, the current statute, the Copyright Act 1968, came into force on 1 May 1969. It contains transitional provisions dealing with works already in existence prior to its commencement, and in some cases there are (or have been) different rules for the copyright terms of such items. Furthermore, it may be necessary to look directly to previous copyright statutes to work out whether older items are still protected by copyright. Thus, if you are dealing with older works (particularly those created or published prior to 1 May 1969), you may need to consider transitional and other provisions.

General rules

Type of work Publication status Duration Notes
Literary, dramatic and musical works such as books, newspapers, journals, letters, diaries, manuscripts, plays and sheet music.
Engravings
Published during the life of the author  70 years after the end of the year in which the author died.  For full details, see subsections 33(2), 33(3) and 33(5) of the Copyright Act.
Literary, dramatic and musical works such as books, newspapers, journals, letters, diaries, manuscripts, plays and sheet music.
Engravings
Published after the death of the author 70 years after the end of the year in which publication first took place. For full details, see subsections 33(2), 33(3) and 33(5) of the Copyright Act.
Literary, dramatic and musical works such as books, newspapers, journals, letters, diaries, manuscripts, plays and sheet music.
Engravings
Has not been published  Until publication occurs, protection is indefinite. For full details, see subsections 33(2), 33(3) and 33(5) of the Copyright Act.
Artistic works such as photographs, paintings, drawings and sculptures – but not engravings  Irrelevant 70 years after the end of the year in which the creator died.

See subsection 33(2).

NOTE: Copyright expired for photographs made before 1 January 1955, and paintings and drawings where the artist died before 1 January 1955.

Sound recordings and films  Published  70 years after the end of the year in which publication first took place. See sections 93 and 94.

Sound recordings and films 
 

Unpublished Until publication occurs, protection is indefinite. See sections 93 and 94.
Sound and television broadcasts  Irrelevant 50 years after the year in which the broadcast was made.  See section 95.
Published editions  Published  25 years from the end of year in which the edition was published.  See section 96.

Special rules

Type of work Publication status Duration Notes
Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works that are anonymous or pseudonymous  Published 70 years after the end of the year in which the work was first published.  See section 34.
Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works that are anonymous or pseudonymous Unpublished publication takes place, effectively indefinite. See section 34.
Works of joint authorship Not applicable  Apply the rules in section 33 of the Copyright Act, but calculations should use the year of death of the author who died last. See section 80.
Works made by or under the direction or control of the Commonwealth or a State (Crown copyright) Published and unpublished  Apply the relevant provisions from Part VII of the Copyright Act.  See sections 180 and 181.
Pre-commencement works: those published or made prior to 1 May 1969 Published and unpublished  The usual rules in relation to subsistence and duration of copyright may be altered by the transitional provisions in Part XI of the Copyright Act.  See Part XI of the Copyright Act. You may need to consider provisions that have been repealed (eg sections 212 and 220(3)).