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Copyright protection begins as soon as the work takes its material form. A work can take its material form, for example, when it has been written down or recorded. Unlike other forms of intellectual property, there is no requirement to register a copyright, it is a right that occurs automatically. With the commencement of copyright known, it is easier to determine the duration of copyright protection.

Australia-US Free Trade Agreement

In 2005, Australia ratified the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), which had an effect on our domestic copyright laws. Previously, at the end of the year in which a copyright creator died, the copyright protection for his or her work would continue 50 years on. In most cases, the AUSFTA agreement extended this period of protection from 50 to 70 years.

One of the main things to consider due to the change of the laws is whether the additional 20 years protection would be added. For example using pre-AUSFTA rules, material created before 2005, whose copyright had also expired before the commencement of that year, will not be protected by the new AUSFTA laws. The additional 20 years protection will not take effect.

Government-owned materials

This general duration of copyright protection applies to materials such as artistic works, computer programs or sound recordings, to name a few. However, some copyright material was not affected by the AUSFTA. For example, material that is owned by the Australian government. In most cases, the period of protection will be 50 years from the year the material was first published. Of course, this helps to rectify the fact that the government does not have the normal lifespan of an ordinary copyright creator.

Company-owned materials

The situation differs if a company owns the copyright material. Although the company may own the copyright, the copyright protection is aligned to the lifetime of the individual creator. There are many reasons why a company may own the copyright instead of the individual creator, for example if an employee has assigned their rights or if the work was produced under a contractual arrangement which included the transfer of ownership.

Public Domain

So why is it so important to know when copyright protection has expired? After copyright protection has come to an end, the work enters public domain, which means people can use the material without the need for permission. This also means that current copyright owners will no longer have the legal authority to charge royalties for the use of the material. In practice, this means that anyone can reproduce the material once it is in the public domain, even for a profit!


The duration of copyright protection can sometimes be quite complex, especially now with the introduction of AUSFTA. If you are unsure about whether or not you can use copyright material, one of the first steps is to confirm the duration of copyright. If you are unsure if your use of copyright material is permissible, speak to the LegalVision IP team so they can help shed light on the duration of copyright protection!


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