State Library of South Australia

How long does copyright last?

Calculating the copyright term for a given work can be complicated because copyright legislation has changed over time. Download the outlines of the key rules, from National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA), contained in the Copyright Act regarding the term 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 Where such items remain unpublished, the copyright term may not commence until publication takes place.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.

What are moral rights?

Australian copyright law sets out a separate and additional set of rights called moral rights. Moral rights give certain creators and performers the right:

  • to have their authorship or performership attributed to them
  • not to have their work falsely attributed to someone else
  • not to have their work treated in a derogatory way.

Moral rights should always be considered if you are re-using and altering works (for example, through editing, cropping or colourising) and you should ensure that attributions are clear and reasonably prominent.

Moral rights generally last until the copyright in the work expires. Moral rights cannot be transferred or waived, although creators can provide written consents to acts that would otherwise infringe their moral rights. Furthermore, there are defences to moral rights infringement, for instance, where the infringing act is reasonable in all the circumstances.

See also: Copying and re-using works with Indigenous cultural content

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Page last updated: 10:31 AM 29 Jun 2017

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