Copyright Law in Australia

Copyright Law in Australia

I missed this when it happened. Last year, Australia negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States - in exchange for certain things, like propping up the Iraq War, and a twenty year extension to their copyright term.

New Zealand still has the original term for copyright works that it inherited from the mother country: a fixed 50 years from publication for sound and video recordings, and 50 years from the author's death for other artistic works. Australia, being, like us, a colony, had the same term up until the free trade agreement. Now it's 70 years in both cases, meaning that "works published by authors who died in or after 1955 will now remain in copyright
until midnight on 31 December 2025 at the earliest".

This matters for things like Project Gutenberg. The US project, for the most part, only accepts works published before 1923. It used to be that the Australian branch could accept works by authors who died fifty years ago, but now there'll be no new works entering that period for another twenty years. Someone needs to start up a New Zealand branch: the works of authors who died in 1956 will be in the public domain in New Zealand at the end of this year.

As long as we don't, you know, 'get a free trade agreement', everything by Ernest Hemingway that was published in his lifetime will be public domain in New Zealand in four years time. T S Eliot will follow, in 2015.

Extending the copyright protection term is a stupid idea. Copyright exists to encourage cultural innovation. I can't see how having works tied up for seventy years after the artist's death provides any incentive at all. Hell, the person is dead: no matter how long you keep the works under copyright for, they're not going to benefit from them.


I remember somebody asking wide-eyed at an early Romeo & Juliet rehearsal: "Wow, how much did you guys have to pay to get the rights to *Shakespeare*?!"... Most of us cracked up laughing and Richard managed to get something out about copyright not lasting 400 years..