Duration of copyright

The Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017 (Cth) will take effect on 1 January 2019 and will affect copyrights subsisting at that time. The Act makes a number of changes to the duration of copyright material, and fixes a term for unpublished works. Below is a summary of the law as it currently stands.


Copyright in literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works normally lasts for 70 years after 31 December of the year the author died (or the last author to die, in the case of works of joint ownership). There are a few exceptions (listed below).

Unpublished works

If the work has not been published, performed in public, or broadcast, and no records of the work have been offered for sale before the death of the author, copyright lasts for 70 years after 31 December of the year the work was first published, performed, broadcast or offered for sale (s 33(3)). This means that unpublished works, no matter how old, cannot legally be copied without the consent of the copyright owner (who may be unknown) unless one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act applies (seeActs permitted by the Copyright Act”). There are separate provisions for computer programs and engravings.

Anonymous works

If the author of a work is unknown, copyright lasts for 70 years after 31 December of the year the work was first published (s 34).

Sound recordings and films

Copyright lasts for 70 years after 31 December of the year the sound recording or film was first published (ss 93, 94).


Copyright lasts for 70 years after 31 December of the year the broadcast was made. However, if the same material is broadcast on more than one occasion, the copyright period for the second broadcast is the same period that applied to the first broadcast (s 95). For example, if a television program first aired on 5 November 1990, and was repeated on 5 November 1995, both broadcasts would be out of copyright on 1 January 2061.

Published editions

Copyright in published editions lasts for 25 years from 31 December of the year in which the edition was first published (s 96).

Free trade changes to duration

Until the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act 2004 (Cth) (“Free Trade Act”) was passed on 13 August 2004, the copyright periods of 70 years (as set out above) were 50 years.

The Free Trade Act also changed the duration of copyright of photographs: previously, copyright lasted for 50 years after 31 December of the year the photograph was first published (whether or not publication took place during the author’s life).

The Free Trade Act also provided that works that were out of copyright when the Free Trade Act came into effect would not go back into copyright. This means it is quite complicated to work out whether some works are still in copyright.