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Copyright at UNSW

Copyright duration

The duration of copyright varies depending on the type of material, its country of origin and when it was created. From 1 January 2019, new changes to Australian copyright duration laws apply:

Literary works:

  • where the author is known – the life of the author plus 70 years
  • where the author is generally unknown:
    • if made public within 50 years of creation – 70 years from when it was made public
    • if not made public – 70 years from creation.

Films and sound recordings:

  • if made public within 50 years of creation – 70 years from when it was made public
  • if not made public – 70 years from creation.

​For more details of the copyright terms, refer to the Department of Communications and the Arts table on the Duration of copyright page.

To help determine the copyright terms of materials, see ALCC copyright term flowcharts

Adapted from ALCC’s information sheet copyright term changes coming 2019. Licenced under CC BY 4.0

Public domain

When material enters the public domain, it can be freely used without restriction. Material enters the public domain in Australia when the copyright has expired. For most materials, this is 70 years after the creator’s death.

In other countries, material can enter the public domain in other ways. For example, in some countries, creators can put their material into the public domain voluntarily as soon as they are created. Additionally, in some countries, material created by government employees automatically enters the public domain after creation.

In Australia however, laws regarding moral rights prevent material from truly entering the public domain before the expiry of the copyright term. In Australia, material must be attributed to the creator until the copyright has expired - the duration for moral rights is the same as that for copyright.

Australians can use materials that have entered the public domain in other countries but must still adhere to Australian moral rights laws and attribute the materials, even though that may not be required in other countries.

Need help?

For general copyright queries submit an Ask a question form, visit a Help Zone or contact us

For other queries, please contact your Outreach Librarian.