This profile supplements the discussion of copyright duration
in our Intellectual Property guide.
The profile is restricted to copyright protection. Patent
and trademark protection is generally for considerably
shorter periods but in contrast to copyright is usually
coverage of this profile
This profile has seven parts -
- differences in the duration of copyright across different
- a snapshot of protection, where photographs for example
are protected for shorter periods than artworks or graffiti
created with a pen or brush
New Zealand - a similar
snapshot of the duration of copyright protection in
- ownership by everyone and no one, because the period
of protection has ceased or because they have a special
status, for example US government publications.
- a perspective on the duration of copyright protection
by looking at the changing term of protection for patents
- some indicators of when particular pop culture icons
will pass into the public domain.
is indicative only and regimes
in particular countries involve peculiarities such as
France's provision of extra protection to account for
the Second World War (which is regarded as lasting from
1939 to 1948).
The 1710 Statute of Anne
- the foundation of Ango-American copyright law - provided
protection for a mere fourteen years (the term of two
apprenticeships), renewable for another forteen years
if the author was still alive. The shortness of the period
is not particularly surprising, given the newness of IP
as a concept and the short lifespan of most people. The
duration of protection has grown since that time.
The UK Literary Copyright Act of 1842 for example introduced
the 'life-plus' principle, granting British authors rights
to their work for life plus seven years (or for forty
two years, whichever was longer). In 1867 German legislation
established protection for writers on the basis of life
plus thirty years, extended in the 1930s to life plus
1906 Samuel L Clemens (aka Mark Twain), in testimony supporting
proposals to extend the term of US copyright from forty
two years to life plus fifty years, commented that
am aware that copyright must have a term, must have
a limit, because that is required by the Constitution
of the United States, which sets aside the earlier constitution,
which we call the Decalogue.
The Decalogue says that you shall not take away from
any man his property. I do not like to use the harsher
term, "Thou shalt not steal." But the laws
of England and America do take away property from the
owner. They select out the people who create the literature
of the land ... I do not know why there should be a
limit at all. I am quite unable to guess why there should
be a limit to the possession of the product of a man's
Around 100 years later Richard Stallman
think the term of copyright should be around 10 years
after publication for novels, and maybe 20 years for
feature films, to provide sufficient incentive. Nowadays,
most books are remaindered soon, and out of print in
three years. Very few books remain in print for 10 years,
and those that do have already been big successes. So
a 10-year copyright term would be enough to keep the
publishing business going and to keep authors getting
is unclear whether Mr Stallman's assessment of publishing
economics is based on comprehensive figures or is mere
assertion. Works such as Harold Vogel's Entertainment
Industry Economics (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press
1998), Albert Greco's The Book Publishing Industry
(Boston: Allyn & Bacon 1997), Robert Picard's The
Economics & Financing of Media Companies (New
York: Fordham Uni Press 2002) and Richard Caves' Creative
Industries: Contracts Between Art & Commerce (Cambridge:
Harvard Uni Press 2002) suggest that reality is far more
US author Mark Helprin noted in 2007 that
is free to extend at will the term of copyright. It
last did so in 1998, and should do so again, as far
as it can throw. Would it not be just and fair for those
who try to extract a living from the uncertain arts
of writing and composing to be freed from a form of
confiscation not visited upon anyone else? The answer
is obvious, and transcends even justice. No good case
exists for the inequality of real and intellectual property,
because no good case can exist for treating with special
disfavor the work of the spirit and the mind.
had commented that
if, after you had paid the taxes on earnings with which
you built a house, sales taxes on the materials, real
estate taxes during your life, and inheritance taxes
at your death, the government would eventually commandeer
it entirely? This does not happen in our society ...
to houses. Or to businesses. Were you to have ushered
through the many gates of taxation a flour mill, travel
agency or newspaper, they would not suffer total confiscation.
Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the
stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed
to flow from one generation to the next. Though they
may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect
investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government
taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.
That is, unless you own a copyright.
Were I tomorrow to write the great American novel (again?),
70 years after my death the rights to it, though taxed
at inheritance, would be stripped from my children and
grandchildren. To the claim that this provision strikes
malefactors of great wealth, one might ask, first, where
the heirs of Sylvia Plath berth their 200-foot yachts.
And, second, why, when such a stiff penalty is not applied
to the owners of Rockefeller Center or Wal-Mart, it
is brought to bear against legions of harmless drudges
who, other than a handful of literary plutocrats (manufacturers,
really), are destined by the nature of things to be
no more financially secure than a seal in the Central
snapshot of how copyright protection in the UK has advanced
Version of Bible
years from publication
years from publication
years from publication
years from publication
years from publication with additional 14 years if
sculptor still alive
years from publication or author's life plus 7 years
life plus 7 years
life plus 50 years
years from exposure
life plus 70
the US the duration of copyright under the Constitution
and Copyright Act of 1790 was based on the "average
life span" of authors: an initial forteen years (on
the UK model) with the possibility of renewal for a further
forteen years if the author was still alive. Thomas Jefferson
had consulted his actuarial tables and proposed to James
Madison that authors should have an exclusive right for
nineteen rather than forteen years.
In 1831 the term was extended to twenty eight years with
the possibility of renewal for another forteen years.
In 1909 it was extended to twenty eight years with renewal
for another twenty eight years.
The duration of protection for works by individual authors
(ie not collective works by film studios) finally reached
life plus fifty years in the US in 1976. Extension to
the author's life plus seventy or more years has been
criticised as establishing a monopoly that is in force
for four generations, assuming that a generation is twenty
years, and that benefits corporations rather than individual
creators. Proponents of extension often refer to tables
such as that above in responding that most people in advanced
economies simply live longer than in Jefferson's time.
In February 2004 the Australian government announced that
protection in Australia would be extended to life plus
seventy years, as part of implementation of the Australia-US
Free Trade Agreement. Legislation to give effect to the
announcement attracted some criticism, with opposition
by the Democrats and others in the Australian Senate,
but the copyright provisions
of the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
2004 passed following the 2004 federal election and
are now in effect.
The 'life plus x years' model is primarily concerned with
original works; protection for published editions and
performance is often shorter.
Reciprocity means that in some countries a 'law of the
shorter term' places imported books and other works in
the public domain at the same time as they expire in their
'home' country, if that is a shorter time period.
Other variations affect the treatment of works created
by multiple authors, works authored by organizations rather
than individuals, works not published until after the
author's death and imported publications.
In the EU copyright in recorded performances ceases after
50 years, in contrast to the US regime of the performer's
life plus x years. Recordings by notables such as Henri
Salvador and Charles Aznavour thus went out of copyright
during their lifetimes. Salvador lamented in 2006
is a scandal. They are selling off cheap my name, my
image and my old recordings, mixing them up any old
how how and I cannot do anything to stop it. I would
point out that I am still alive.
technocrat, intellectual, banker and music executive Jacques
author of Noise: The Political Economy of Music
(Minneapolis: Uni of Minnesota Press 1985), responded
am putting an artist within the reach of wallets in all
legality, and I am extending his fame".
Overall there has been a strong national and international
trend to longer protection of copyright. The 1905 Australian
Copyright Act, for example, offered protection for a flat
forty two years or for the author's life plus seven years.
That has been progressively extended and in many instances
the period is now life plus seventy years.
Ownership v authorship
The 'life plus x years' model is tied to the life of the
author of the work - for example a novelist or songwriter
- and is unaffected by changes to the ownership of the
copyright. When an investor buys the copyright from an
author, for example, the 'life' remains that of the author
- not that of the investor. That prevents the sort of
perpetual copyright protection alluded to by Clemens,
with authors transferring ownership to their grandchildren,
who in turn transfer it to their great-grandchildren and
Some cultural production involves several 'authors',
ie individuals who are considered to have primary responsibility
for the existence and shape of that text, film or other
The duration of protection for such works generally extends
for a period of x years from the end of the year in which
occurred the death of the last surviving author. English
law for example protects films for 70 years from the end
of the year of death of the last surviving principal director,
screenwriter and composer of any music specially written
for and used in the film.