The length of time that an item receives copyright protection is determined by what type of material it is.
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. Because copyright itself is property this means it that can be bequeathed (given away) under the copyright owner's will.
A further factor affecting some materials will be whether it was published anonymously or under a pseudonym. In these cases the date from which copyright duration is calculated is the date of first publication rather than the death of the author given this is unknown.
Once copyright has expired the material enters the public domain and may be used without obtaining permission. For a guide to identifying whether copyright has expired and what types of material are available in the public domain see the Australian Copyright Council’s Duration of Copyright factsheet.
After the date of expiration copyright cannot be extended or renewed.
Where a work is unpublished copyright continues to exist for as long as the work remains unpublished.
Some types of material have expanded copyright periods as a consequence of the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement which came into effect on 1 January 2005. For example, published photographs previously had a copyright duration of 50 years but, under the agreement, this has period has been extended to 70 years.
The following copyright duration periods are for material published, or with existing copyright, on or after the date that the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement came into effect (i.e. 1 January 2005). For fuller details of materials pre and post the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement see the Australian Copyright Council factsheet entitled 'Duration of Copyright'.
Published literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works other than photographs
Copyright lasts until the end of the calendar year the author dies plus a further 70 years [Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) s 33(2)].
Computer programs and artistic works (other than photographs and engravings)
Copyright lasts for 70 years from the death of the author.
Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works published anonymously or under a pseudonym where the identity of the author cannot be determined by reasonable enquiry
Copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published [s 34].
Copyright lasts for 70 years from the death of the creator.
Sound recordings and films
Copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year of first publication [ss 93, 94].
Television or sound broadcasts
Copyright lasts for 50 years from the year in which the broadcast was made [s 95].
Copyright lasts for 25 years from the end of the year of first publication [s 96].
Material published by government
Copyright generally lasts for 50 years from the year in which the material was first published [ss 180, 181].
Literary, dramatic or musical works, or engravings that are unpublished before the author’s death
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)]. However, if they remain unpublished copyright continues indefinitely.