Sometimes people ask me how long copyright protection lasts. The answer is a very long time. Some say too long.
In Australia, copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. If a work is anonymous (i.e. we don’t know who the creator is) then copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the work is first made available to the public.
For sound recordings and cinematograph films, copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the recording or film is first made available to the public. For published editions, copyright lasts for 25 years after the edition is first published.
I told you it was a long time! (In fact, did you know that your copyright interest is something that you can pass down to your children or other beneficiaries in your will?)
That’s why copyright notices like “© Kylie Pappalardo 2014” can be helpful. Once you know who created the work and when it was made, you can figure out when the copyright term will end.
So what happens when the copyright term does end? The work falls into what we call “the public domain“, which means that anyone can use the work however they like for free.
Now most public domain works are old, of course, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fun or useful. For example, the original illustrations in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland are in the public domain (the illustrator, John Tenniel, died in 1914). There are many examples of people using these images in party themes, invitations and decorations (and selling their products on Etsy). Another interesting example is Project Gutenberg, which provides free e-book downloads of public domain books.