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How long does copyright last?

For literary, dramatic and musical works that were published and made public during the lifetime of the author or made public after the creator's deaths and on or after 1 January 2019, copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died.  

Where a work was made public after the creator’s death and before 1 January 2019 the duration is the year it was made public plus 70 years. 

If a work was never made public then duration is life of the creator plus 70 years.

Artistic works and photographs by known creators are also the life of the creator plus 70 years. Films and sound recordings now have similar factors to literary works which affect the duration.

Amendments which came into force on 1 January 2019 removed the in-perpetuity copyright of unpublished materials and harmonised the terms for published and unpublished materials. The terms for orphan works were also made clearer.

Key rules

The Copyright Act contains provisions regarding the term of copyright; some of the key rules are set out in the downloadable Duration of Copyright (Department of Communications and the Arts) table.

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.

For more information on calculating the duration of copyright see the Australian Copyright Council's Duration of copyright information sheet.

Some of the key principles for calculating the duration of copyright are available for download in PDF or DOC:

  • Duration of Copyright table (Department of Communications and the Arts)

    • Page 1: Copyright material made before 1 January 2019 (other than Government copyright material)

    • Page 4: Copyright material made on or after 1 January 2019 (other than Government copyright material)

    • Page 5: Government copyright material made before or after 1 January 2019