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How long does copyright last?

Calculating the copyright term for a given work can be complicated because copyright legislation has changed over time. You can use the standard terms set out in the Copyright Act to help you work out the duration of copyright.

Under current law, 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 Where such items remain unpublished, the copyright term may not commence until publication takes place.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.

So to calculate the copyright status of older works, find out if the period of copyright protection had 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 old 50-year period of copyright protection had elapsed by 1 January 2005. Once copyright expires, there are no longer any copyright-related restrictions on its copying or re-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, Indigenous cultural concerns or fragility.