Ownership & duration of copyright

Who owns copyright?

Usually the author or creator of a work is the copyright owner. Copyright can be shared among a number of individuals. It can also be owned by an organisation or corporation.

There are exceptions to this rule and some of the most important ones are listed below:

Example Who owns copyright
Works created by an employee, other than a freelance worker or volunteer, during the course of their usual employment
The employer

Commissioned photographs, portraits or engravings
The client
Works created after on or after 30 July 1998 by journalists & photographers employed by newspaper proprietors
Journalist & photographer own copyright for purposes of book publication & photocopying; proprietor owns copyright for all other purposes
Freelance journalists & photographers
Usually owned by the freelance but may be subject to any contract signed with a publisher
Works made by, or under the direction or control of the Commonwealth Government or a State or Territory Government
Relevant government
Typographical arrangement in a published edition or document
The publisher

For additional information see the Australian Copyright Council’s Information Sheet Ownership of copyright.

University of Sydney Intellectual Property Rule

In the University of Sydney (Intellectual Property) Rule 2002 (pdf), the University asserts ownership of all intellectual property created by a staff member in pursuance of the terms of his or her employment with the University, including, without limitation, copyright in any material that is:

  • teaching material
  • computer programs
  • material created at the express request or direction of the University
  • intellectual property generated from a research project funded by any publicly funded research agency in the absence of a third party agreement to the contrary.

The University does not assert ownership over copyright in any scholarly books, journal articles, conference papers, creative works or proceedings or texts created by a staff member.

The copyright in a work created by a student while enrolled at the University will usually be owned by the student. Students are not employees of the University so the University does not make any claim in respect of intellectual property in their work.

For detailed information check the IP Rule (pdf) and the Guide to the IP Rule (pdf).

Duration of copyright

The rules for the duration of copyright changed on 1 January 2005 when the Australia–US Free Trade Agreement came into effect.

The following changes occurred:

  • copyright usually lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years after the year of their death.
  • before 1 January 2005 copyright protection in Australia lasted for the life of the author plus 50 years from the year of their death.
  • the extended term of 70 years only applies to material that was still in copyright on 1 January 2005. There was no revival of copyright that had expired before this date.

Rules for the duration of copyright are complex and depend on of material, the publication date, if the item was published during the creator’s lifetime and if the government was involved in the production of publication of the work.

A summary of the copyright protection period for some of the main types of works is set out below. Consult the Australian Copyright Council’s Information Sheet Duration of copyright or contact the for more information.

Type of work
Copyright has expired if 
Duration of copyright if work was still in copyright on 1 January 2005
Literary, dramatic and musical works -published
The author died before
1 January 1955
Life of author + 70 years from the year of death
Literary, dramatic and musical works -unpublished
Copyright does not expire - it lasts indefinitely
Copyright in unpublished works lasts indefinitely. Once the work is published copyright lasts for 70 years after the year that the author died or the date of publication.
Artistic works
Creator died before 1 January 1955
Life of creator + 70 years from the year of death
Photographs
The photograph was taken before 1 January 1955.
Life of  photographer + 70 years after the year of their death
Films
Note: underlying works are protected separately and could still be in copyright
The film was made before
1 January 1955
Year first published + 70 years
Sound recordings
Note: underlying works are protected and could still be in copyright
The recording was made before 1 January 1955
Year first published + 70 years

Duration of moral rights

Moral rights usually last for the duration of copyright for the work involved and can be exercised by an author’s legal representative after the author’s death. The exception is the right of integrity in a film which lasts only until the death of the creator.

Duration of performers’ rights

Performers’ rights in the recording of a performance and the copying and use of the recordings last for 50 from the date of the performance

Performers’ rights in the communication of their performance or its inclusion in a soundtrack last for 20 years from the date of the performance.