How long does copyright last?

Calculating the copyright term for a given work can be complicated because copyright legislation has changed over time. The tables below outline some of the key rules contained in the Copyright Act regarding the term of copyright.

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 Where such items remain unpublished, the copyright term may not commence until publication takes place.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 70 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 (G023).

The National Library Catalogue and Trove both provide an approximate calculation of the copyright status of a particular work based on the data contained in the individual catalogue record. Follow the 'copyright status' links in the individual catalogue record.

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.

Key rules

General rules

Type of work Publication status Duration Notes

Literary, dramatic & musical works such as books, newspapers, journals, letters, diaries, manuscripts, plays & 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) & 33(5) of the Copyright Act
Published after the death of the author 70 years after the end of the year in which publication first took place
Has not been published Until publication occurs, protection is indefinite
Artistic works such as photographs, paintings, drawings & sculptures – but not engravings Irrelevant 70 years after the end of the year in which the creator died See subsection 33(2)
Sound recordings & films Published 70 years after the end of the year in which publication first took place See sections 93 & 94
Unpublished Until publication occurs, protection is indefinite
Sound & television broadcasts Irrelevant 50 years after the year in which the broadcast was made See section 95
Published editions Published 25 years after 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 & 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
Unpublished Until publication takes place, effectively indefinite
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 & unpublished Apply the relevant provisions from Part VII of the Copyright Act See sections 180 & 181
Pre-commencement works: those published or made prior to 1 May 1969 Published & unpublished The usual rules in relation to subsistence & 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 & 220(3))