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Duration of copyright

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

Australia agreed under the Free Trade Agreement to a 20 years 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 Free Trade Agreement:

  • 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 duration for some of the main types of copyright material is set out below (separate rules apply to copyright material owned by a government).


    • Literary, dramatic and musical works made public during the author’s life2
      Copyright has expired if
      Author died before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright1
      Life of author plus 70 years from the year of death
    • Literary, dramatic and musical works not made public during the author’s life2
      Copyright has expired if
      It was made public before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright1
      Once the work is made public, copyright lasts for 70 years after the year it is first made public
    • Artistic works3
      Copyright has expired if
      Author died before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright1
      Life of author plus 70 years from the year of death
    • Photographs4
      Copyright has expired if
      Photograph was taken before 1 January 1955
      Duration of copyright1
      Life of author5 plus 70 years after the year of their death
    • Films made on or after 1 May 19696
      Copyright has expired if
      [Copyright has not yet expired for films made on or after 1 May 1969]
      Duration of copyright1
      Year first published plus 70 years
    • Sound recordings7
      Copyright has expired if
      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, there may be underlying copyright material within the material that 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 by copyright in Australia.


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