How long does copyright protection last?

Copyright protection allows creators to protect their works – but it doesn’t last forever. What is the time period in Australia?

Copyright is the legal protection of the expression of unique ideas. The rationale is simple – if you create something, you should be able to commercially benefit from it for a certain amount of time.

But how long does that period last? Legislation has changed over the years, meaning that the law that’s applied now may be different to when the IP was originally created.

How long does IP last in Australia, and what are the implications for existing properties?

How long does copyright last in Australia?

Copyright in Australia used to last for the duration of the creators’ life and then 50 years after their death. In some cases, the copyright lasted 50 years from the date the IP was first published.

This changed, however, after January 1 2005 with the free trade agreement between the United States and Australia. Copyright laws were realigned to match the United States’, with the general term now lasting 70 years after the creators’ death or the date of first publication.

Keep in mind, this timeframe refers to copyright’s lifespan in Australia – other countries around the world may have different copyright laws that impact the protection of expressed ideas, so it’s important to consult with an intellectual property lawyer when taking your ideas overseas.

The case of Mickey Mouse

While these laws seem straightforward enough, they do present some interesting problems for companies and owners of IP that have existed for a long time.

Take Mickey Mouse, for example. The character first appeared in the cartoon “Steamboat Willie” in 1928. Under current copyright law, that means the cartoon is set to enter the public domain in the year 2024. Works in the public domain are free to be republished by anyone, so it’s possible that Disney could lose control of the iconic character.

That said, it’s quite possible – and likely – that Disney will be able to save their character due the fact they 1) own numerous trademarks for the character relating to merchandise, films and animation and 2) the fact that Mickey Mouse is still so strongly association with the company. But this is by no means certain. Come 2024, could we be seeing Mickey Mouse cartoons from other companies or creators? Only time will tell.

Do you have some IP you’re wanting to secure copyright protection for? Contact us today for a free consultation.