History and black letter law cross paths when copyright in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf expires on January 1, 2016. Hitler wrote his prison monologue after his failed putsch in 1923, and the title translates to “My Struggle.”
The State of Bavaria owned the book’s German language copyright since 1945 and outlawed its publication. So, those wanting to read Mein Kampf in German had to scour library shelves or pass around old copies. Although, translations of the text have always been available. Now, anyone can reprint the original German text under the European Union’s copyright law. Below, we explain what is copyright and how long it can last.
What is Copyright?
Copyright is the exclusive right to reproduce, publish or communicate the work to the public. If the person is the author of an original literary work, then they own the copyright in that work.
If the author publishes his or her work, then it automatically attracts copyright. Where the work is unpublished, the author owns the copyright if he or she satisfies the following:
- The author created the work over a period; and
- The author was a ‘qualified person’ for a substantial period of that time.
A qualified person is an Australian citizen or a body corporate incorporated under an Australian law. If a person who is not the copyright owner reproduces, publishes or communicates the work to the public, they are in violation of copyright.
How Long Can It Last?
Regarding the duration of copyright, Australia’s copyright laws mirror the European Union’s. Copyright in a literary work continues for 70 years after the calendar year in which the author of the work dies.
What Does This Mean?
Copyright is an interest in a piece of intellectual property. Any interest, whether in real or intellectual property, is something that should be reflected in a person’s will. For example, if Tim Winton dies, the copyright in Breath would pass to his estate, created by his final will.
In short, anyone who has created an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work automatically receives copyright in that work, irrespective of the role they played in history. The copyright endures throughout life and continues after death, residing in a person’s estate. Fortunately, Australia’s position on copyright reflects the importance in recognising and protecting the original author’s creative works.
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