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How Long Does Copyright Protection Last For?

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last For?

Posted 29 April 2022 by Cameron Lang

Categories: Copyright

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (Copyright Act) protects a wide range of materials including literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works, as well as audiovisual content such as films and sound recordings. Unlike most other forms of intellectual property, copyright protection is automatic and in Australia you do not need to seek registration. However, working out how long copyright protection will last is not always straightforward. The length of protection will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of material, when it was created and first published, and who the author is. This article will explore how long copyright protection lasts for in Australia for some common types of materials.

Literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works

The general rule for literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works is that copyright protection will last for the life of the author plus 70 years. In other words, copyright protection will expire 70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies. Even if the copyright is not owned by the author (for example, if they have assigned their rights to someone else) this period of protection is tied to the lifetime of the author rather than the copyright owner.

This general rule used to be that protection would last for the life of the author plus 50 years. Changes made to the Copyright Act in 2005 after Australia ratified the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement increased the period of protection to the life of the author plus 70 years. However, this increased period of protection did not apply retrospectively to works for which copyright had already expired prior to 2005.

CASE STUDY: Andrea is the author of a book published in 1945, and she died in 1970. Copyright protection in the book would last until the end of 2040 (i.e. 70 years from the end of the year in which Andrea died).

Ben is the author of a painting published in 1950, and he died in 1952. Copyright protection in the painting would last until the end of 2002 (i.e. 50 years from the end of the year in which Ben died). Because copyright protection had already expired by 2005, it would not be extended by the 2005 changes to the Copyright Act.

Unpublished works and unknown authors

There are a number of exceptions to the general rule for literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works, including where the works are unpublished or the author is unknown (also referred to as ‘orphan works’). For works which were published after 1 January 2019:

  1. If the author of the work is known and the work has not been published, then the general rule will apply and copyright protection will last for the life of the author plus 70 years;
  2. If the author of the work is unknown and the work is first published within 50 years of being made, then copyright protection will last for 70 years from the date of first publication; and
  3. If the author of the work is unknown and the work has not been published within 50 years of being made, then copyright protection will last for 70 years from the date it was made.

Different rules apply for works first published before 1 January 2019.

Films and sound recordings

Audiovisual content such as films and sound recordings are subject to slightly different rules, which were changed in 2019. For most films and sound recordings first published after 1 January 2019, copyright will last for 70 years from the date they were first published. Different rules apply for audiovisual content first published before 1 January 2019.

CASE STUDY: Charlie makes a film in 2019, and it is first screened at an event in April 2020. Copyright protection in the film will last until the end of 2090.

Government copyright

Copyright which is owned by Commonwealth or State governments lasts for 50 years from the date the material was made.

Is the duration of copyright the same overseas?

Copyright laws, and the length of copyright protection they provide, varies from country to country. Most countries, including Australia, are signatories to an international treaty which deals with copyright protection called the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (also referred to as just the Berne Convention). The Berne Convention provides that copyright materials from one member country will also be automatically protected in all member countries. However, the length of protection will depend on local copyright laws and the ‘country of origin’ (this is not always straightforward to work out, particularly for materials which are first published online).

What happens when copyright expires?

Once your copyright protection has expired, your materials will be in the ‘public domain’. This means that anyone else can use your materials without your permission, and without paying royalties. This can have serious consequences, especially if your business relies heavily on monetising copyright works or audiovisual content.

Key takeaways

Copyright protection can be an important and valuable asset for businesses and individuals, so it is important to know how long your copyright protection will last for before your materials enter the ‘public domain’ and other people can begin using them. Under the Copyright Act the period of protection will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of material, when it was created and first published, and who the author is. There are also additional factors to consider when dealing with overseas copyright laws and protection.

If you are unsure about the duration of copyright protection in your or someone else’s materials, it is best to seek legal advice. Actuate IP has a team of intellectual property experts who can assist with Copyright & Moral Rights. If you require assistance, you can contact our team on (03) 9098 0713 or info@actuateip.com.au and our friendly staff will make sure you are directed to the best person to assist you with your matter.

FAQs

When does copyright protection expire in Australia?

Under the Copyright Act the period of protection will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of material, when it was created and first published, and who the author is. The general rule for literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works is that copyright protection will last for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, there are many exceptions and variations to this general rule.

How long does international copyright protection last?

Copyright laws, and the length of copyright protection they provide, varies from country to country. The length of protection will depend on local copyright laws and the ‘country of origin’ (this is not always straightforward to work out, particularly for materials which are first published online).