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Duration of copyright

When does copyright expire?

The rules for the duration of copyright changed on 1 January 2005 when the Australia–US Free Trade Agreement came into effect.

General rules following the AUSFTA
  • Under the AUSFTA, Australia agreed to a 20 year extension to the general duration of copyright for works, sound recordings and films. In addition, the term for photographs was increased to be consistent with other artistic works.

    As a consequence of the AUSFTA:

    • copyright protection in Australia now generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years from the year of their death or 70 years from the end of the year of first publication, depending on the circumstances
    • the extended term only applies to material that was still in copyright on 1 January 2005. There was no revival of copyright that had expired before this date
Summary of current rules
  • Rules for the duration of copyright are complex and depend on:

    • the material
    • the publication date
    • if the material was published during the creator’s lifetime
    • if the material was published anonymously or under a pseudonym (and the author cannot be ascertained by reasonable inquiry)
    • if a government was involved in the production or publication of the material

    A summary of the copyright protection period general rules for some of the main types of copyright material is set out below (separate rules apply to copyright material owned by governments and international organisations).


    • Literary, dramatic and musical works made public during the author’s life1
      Copyright has expired provided
      Author died before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright provided the copyright material was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
      Life of author plus 70 years from the year of death
    • Literary, dramatic and musical works not made public during the author’s life1
      Copyright has expired provided
      It was made public before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright provided the copyright material was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
      Once the work is made public, copyright lasts for 70 years after the year it is first made public
    • Artistic works2
      Copyright has expired provided
      Author died before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright provided the copyright material was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
      Life of author plus 70 years from the year of death
    • Photographs3
      Copyright has expired provided
      Photograph was taken before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright provided the copyright material was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
      Life of author4 plus 70 years after the year of their death
    • Films made on or after 1 May 19695
      Copyright has expired provided
      [Copyright has not yet expired for films made on or after 1 May 1969]
      Duration of copyright provided the copyright material was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
      Year first published plus 70 years
    • Sound recordings6
      Copyright has expired provided
      Recording was made before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright1
      Year first published plus 70 years

    For more detailed and specific information on how to determine whether or not material is still in copyright, please refer to the Australian Copyright Council’s Duration of Copyright information sheet, or contact Copyright Services.

General rules before 1 January 2005
  • Before 1 January 2005 copyright protection in Australia generally lasted for the life of the author plus 50 years from the year of their death, but in the case of some material, copyright lasted for 50 years from the end of the year of first publication.

Public domain
  • Once copyright has expired, the copyright material is in the “public domain” and is no longer protected by copyright. However, if there is any underlying copyright material in the material that is no longer protected by copyright, that underlying copyright material could still be protected by copyright and, if so, permission would need to be obtained to use that underlying copyright material.

    The term of copyright protection can vary from country to country so even if the copyright material is in the public domain in, for example, the overseas country of origin, it may still be protected in Australia.

2019 changes to copyright terms
  • Federal parliament through the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017 made changes effective in 2019 to the copyright duration for certain types of copyright material. An important change is the removal of perpetual copyright protection for unpublished works and orphan works where the identity of the author is not generally known.

    From 1 January 2019, works made on or after that date where the author is known will be protected for 70 years from the death of the author. Works where the author is generally unknown will be protected for 70 years from when the material was first made public, if they were made public within 50 years of being made. If they were not made public during that 50 year period, they will be protected for 50 years from when they were made. Separate rules apply to government copyright material.

    Separate rules also apply to copyright material made before 1 January 2019, including works where the author is not generally known (orphan works) and works that are not made public before that date.

    Why is 1 January 2019 so important?
    • The federal government has given rights holders a grace period before the new copyright duration rules come into effect.

      This grace period gives creators of orphan works time to determine whether they want to maximise the protection period for their work. If, for example, the author makes it generally known they created the work and they make it public before 1 January 2019, the work will be protected for the standard term of 70 years from the death of the author (rather than from the date it was made, if the work is never made public and the author is unknown).

      This grace period also allows copyright owners who have acquired rights in the work of deceased authors, which have not been made public, to release the work prior to 1 January 2019 and enjoy a full copyright period (ie 70 years from the year it was made public).


This information is provided as general information only. It provides a basic introduction to copyright and is not intended to be comprehensive.

Reviewed December 2017