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.

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    1. Enoch Lau’s avatar

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

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      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?

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        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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