Copyright Duration in Australia: 1869 to 2014
(2015) 25(3) Australian Intellectual Property Journal (AIPJ) 155-178.
31 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2016 Last revised: 13 Jan 2016
Date Written: March 6, 2015
One of the most significant features of any copyright statute is the duration of the rights granted to works and subject matter other than works pursuant to that law. The most "appropriate" length of copyright also continues to be a recurring theme in legislative, policy and academic debates. However, despite both the significance of and interest in the term of copyright, there has been little empirical evidence presented on how long, in light of both statutory term and life expectancies, copyright will likely protect a work.
This article provides a historical account of both the duration of copyright and its various extensions, from the introduction of the first colonial copyright statute through to today. It reveals that, while multiple legislative extensions have lengthened the term of protection, continual increases in life expectancies have also added to the duration of copyright, to the point where, today, copyright will likely protect a work for well over 100 years.
The paper concludes that it is worth questioning whether IP terms are out of alignment when one form of creation – patents – only warrants a 20 year period of protection whereas another – copyright – garners 120 years. The haphazard legislature approach to copyright terms identified in this article needs to cease, and a more considered approach taken. It feels akin to science fiction that, today, copyright in a work created by a 35 year old today will generally not expire until well after the deaths of a generation that is yet to be born, and extend for more than a century. Furthermore, given the current creations found to be "literary works", this would apply to, for example, a computer program, the practical utility of which will cease over a century before its copyright expires, and where its literary or artistic appeal never existed.
Keywords: Australia, copyright, duration, public domain, unpublished works
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