Duration of copyright: companies

In Aus­tralia, for pub­lished works where the author is iden­ti­fi­able, the dur­a­tion of copy­right is 70 years from the death of the author. This applies even if it is work per­formed under employ­ment for a com­pany; even if the com­pany ulti­mately owns the copy­right, the length of copy­right pro­tec­tion is meas­ured by ref­er­ence to the human author’s lifespan.

This can seem rather counter-intu­it­ive for the unini­ti­ated, and for many “com­pany-pro­duced” works, like com­mer­cial soft­ware, it is quite dif­fi­cult to determ­ine the authors of that work, and hence when it will fall into the pub­lic domain.

On the oth­er hand, United States copy­right law has a notion of cor­por­ate author­ship: copy­right expires 70 years after the death of the author (as in Aus­tralia), but for works of cor­por­ate author­ship, copy­right expires 120 years after cre­ation or 95 years after pub­lic­a­tion, whichever is earli­er.

120 years does sound quite extreme, and the U.S. Act that exten­ded pro­tec­tion to this extent has been, per­haps right­fully, chided as the “Mickey Mouse Pro­tec­tion Act” — how­ever, the Aus­trali­an Act isn’t really much bet­ter. If you assume that the aver­age author is 40 years old and dies at 75 years, and cor­por­ate works are pub­lished not long after they are cre­ated, that’s 105 years of copy­right pro­tec­tion on aver­age. And since the dur­a­tion of copy­right of works of joint author­ship (as would be many cor­por­ate works) extends to 70 years after the death of the last sur­viv­ing author, the U.S. Act could, in many cases, res­ult in a short­er copy­right term than under the Aus­trali­an Act. How­ever, if the authors of the work can­not be ascer­tained by reas­on­able inquiry (i.e. for anonym­ous or pseud­onym­ous works, a cat­egory that some cor­por­ate works might fall into), then copy­right only extends to 70 years after pub­lic­a­tion in Aus­tralia.

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  1. Tommy Chen’s avatar

    If I recall cor­rectly, the “Mickey Mouse” is a ref­er­ence to the legis­lat­ive ori­gin of the rule — it was spe­cific­ally exten­ded because the copy­right on Mickey Mouse owned by the Walt Dis­ney Com­pany was about to expire.

    1. Enoch Lau’s avatar

      You’re right — I con­fused the main Act with the amend­ing Act

      1. James Kilburn’s avatar

        Does the same dur­a­tion of copy­right that applies to pub­lished works, apply to works such as writ­ten music or recor­ded music?

        1. Enoch Lau’s avatar

          Copy­right in ori­gin­al lit­er­ary, dra­mat­ic, music­al and artist­ic works sub­sists for 70 years after the author’s death, if the work is pub­lished before the author’s death (s 33).

          Copy­right in a sound record­ing and cine­ma­to­graph film sub­sists for 70 years after first pub­lic­a­tion (s 93–94).

          Copy­right in a tele­vi­sion or sound broad­cast sub­sists for 50 years after the broad­cast (s 95).

          Copy­right in a pub­lished edi­tion of a work sub­sists for 25 years after first pub­lic­a­tion (s 96).

          Note the dif­fer­ence between a music­al work and a sound record­ing of that music­al work.

          (For the pre­cise word­ing, have a read of the Copy­right Act itself.)

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