In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, the general rule is that the author, i.e. the person who created the work, is the first owner of the economic rights under copyright. This rule also applies to commissioned works. However, where such a work is made in the course of employment, the employer is the first owner of these rights, unless an agreement to the contrary has been made with the author. In some situations two or more people may be joint authors and/or joint owners of copyright.
- In the case of a film, the principal director and the film producer are joint authors and first owners of the economic rights, and similar provisions as referred to above apply where the director is employed.
- In the case of a sound recording the author and first owner of copyright is the record producer; in the case of a broadcast, the broadcaster; and in the case of a published edition, the publisher.
Copyright is, however, a form of property which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. So, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner. In contrast, the moral rights accorded to authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film directors remain with the author or director or pass to his or her heirs on death.
Copyright in material produced by a Government department belongs to the Crown. The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) can provide more information about this.
United States of America
The term of copyright for a particular work depends on several factors, including whether it has been published, and, if so, the date of first publication. As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first. For works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors. To determine the length of copyright protection for a particular work, consult chapter 3 of the Copyright Act (title 17 of the United States Code).
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. To calculate the copyright status of older works, find out if the period of copyright protection 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 50 year period of copyright protection elapsed by 1 January 2005.
Generally, copyright lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following the end of that calendar year. Therefore, protection will expire on December 31 of the 50th year after the author dies.
- Performer’s performances: copyright lasts until the end of 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the performance occurs. If it is fixed in a sound recording before the copyright expires, the copyright continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which it is first fixed. If the sound recording is published before the copyright expires, the copyright continues until 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first publication occurs or 99 years after the end of the calendar year in which the performance occurs, whichever is earlier.
- Sound recordings: copyright lasts until 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first fixation of the sound recording occurs. If the sound recording is published before the copyright expires, the copyright continues for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the first publication occurs.
United Kingdom and Europe
The term of protection or duration of copyright varies depending on the type of copyright work. For copyright works originating outside the UK or another country of the European Economic Area (EEA), the term of protection may also be shorter if it is shorter in the country of origin. There may also be variations in the term where a work was created before 1 January 1996.
But in general, the terms of protection in the UK are as follows:
- Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work lasts for the life of the author and 70 years from the end of the year in which he/she died.
- Copyright in a film expires 70 years after the end of the year in which the death occurs of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film.
- Copyright in a sound recording expires 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 50 years from the end of the year of publication. If not published during that 50 year period, but it is played in public or communicated to the public during that period, 50 years from the first of these to happen.
- Copyright in a broadcast expires 50 years from the end of the year of making of the broadcast.
- Copyright in a published edition expires 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.
The above terms of protection were introduced or confirmed on 1 January 1996 when copyright terms throughout the EEA were harmonised. The above terms now apply to many works created before this date – further details of how the new copyright terms apply to such works are available on our extended/revived copyright page.
The term of protection is particularly complicated for photographs taken before 1 January 1996.
In the case of a work that has more than one author, the term will last for the remainder of the calendar year in which the last author dies and for the number of “Country Specified years” after that.