How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright depends upon the nature of the work and a number of other factors.

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works

In relation to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works as a general rule copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

The following are exceptions to this general rule:

Works of unknown authorship

If the work is of unknown authorship, copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made or, if the work was made available to the public during that period, copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first made available to the public. However, if during one of those periods the identity of the author becomes known copyright will expire at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

Work becomes available to the public if it is performed in public, exhibited to the public, shown in public or communicated in some other manner to the public. However, if the work has only become available to the public as a result of an unauthorised act such act will not be taken into account for the purposes of determining the duration of the copyright.

Work created outside of the EEA by non EEA nationals

Where work is created outside of the EEA and the author is not a national of an EEA state, the laws relating to the country in which the work was created will apply as long as such laws do not exceed the periods set out above.

Computer-generated work

Where work is computer-generated copyright expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.

Joint authorship

In relation to work of joint authorship where the identity of all the authors is known copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of the authors die.

If the identity of one or more of the authors is known but the identity of one or more of the authors is not known, copyright will expire at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of the authors whose identity is known dies.

For the purpose of determining when copyright expires in relation to work of unknown authorship being made available to the public the identity of the author becoming known is taken to mean any one of the authors becoming known.

In relation to work of joint authorship the exception relating to non EEA nationals will only apply if all of the joint authors are non EEA nationals.

Crown copyright and Parliamentary copyright

Crown copyright expires 125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made or if the work was published commercially before the end of the period of 75 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was made, it expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was published.

Parliamentary copyright expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.

Sound recordings

As far as sound recordings are concerned as a general rule copyright expires:

  • at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made; or

  • if during that period the recording is published, 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first published; or

  • if during that period the recording is not published but is made available to the public by being played in public or communicated in some other manner to the pubic, 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public.

However, if the work has only become available to the public as a result of an unauthorised act such act will not be taken into account for the purposes of determining the duration of the copyright.

There is an exception to this general rule in relation to sound recordings created by non EEA nationals.

Works created by non EEA nationals

Where the author is not a national of an EEA state, the laws relating to the country in which the author is a national will apply as long as such laws do not exceed the periods set out above.

However, if this would contravene an international obligation to which the UK became subject prior to 29 October 1993 the general rules relating to the duration of copyright for sound recordings will apply.

Films

In relation to films as a general rule copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of the following persons die:

  • the principal director;

  • the author of the screenplay;

  • the author of the dialogue;

  • the composer of music specially created for and used in the film.

Again, there are some exceptions to this general rule. The exceptions are as follows:

Where the identity of one or more of the above persons is not known

If the identity of one or more of the persons described above is known but the identity of one or more of them is not known, copyright will expire at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of them whose identity is known dies.

If none of the above persons identity is known, copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the film was made or if during that period the film is made available to the public, at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public. However, if during one of those periods the identity of one of the persons becomes known the general rule relating to copyright duration for films will apply.

Work becomes available to the public if it is shown in public or communicated in some other manner to the public. However, if the work has only become available to the public as a result of an unauthorised act such act will not be taken into account for the purposes of determining the duration of the copyright.

Works created outside of the EEA by non EEA nationals

Where work is created outside of the EEA and the author is not a national of an EEA state, the laws relating to the country in which the work was created will apply as long as such laws do not exceed the periods set out above.

In relation to work of joint authorship the exception relating to non EEA nationals will only apply if all of the joint authors are non EEA nationals.

Where there is no principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue or composer of music specially created for and used in the film

In the unlikely event that there is no principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue or composer of music specially created for and used in the film copyright expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the film was made.

Broadcasts

In relation to broadcasts as a general rule copyright expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made. The fact that a broadcast may be repeated does not affect the duration of copyright since it is the date of the original broadcast that is taken into account when determining the duration of copyright.

The following is an exception to this general rule:

Works created by non EEA nationals

Where the author is not a national of an EEA state, the laws relating to the country in which the author is a national will apply as long as such laws do not exceed the periods set out above.

However, if this would contravene an international obligation to which the UK became subject prior to 29 October 1993 the general rules relating to the duration of copyright for broadcasts will apply.

Typographical arrangement of published editions

Copyright in the typographical arrangement of a published edition expires at the end of the period of 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.