Copyright – Fact sheet 8

Ownership of copyright in records held by the National Archives

The Commonwealth government owns copyright in most of the records held by the National Archives as they are official records produced by Commonwealth government agencies. The Commonwealth is not the copyright owner for records in the collection of the Archives which were not made by the government, for example letters written by private individuals to the government or documents provided by other governments. Although such records are the property of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth cannot give permission to reproduce them as it is not the copyright owner.

Copies provided for research purposes only

We make copies of records in our custody available to researchers for the purposes of their research. Any copies of records you receive are provided to you on the understanding that you are to use them for research or study or in order to seek permission to publish. Where the Commonwealth government owns copyright, you may download, display, print and reproduce the material in unaltered form for your personal, non-commercial use. We ask that you acknowledge the Archives as the source and cite the record accordingly. In general, you may only proceed to publish or otherwise reproduce a copy of a document received from the Archives if:

  • you have the permission of the copyright holder; or
  • the work (letter, report, photograph, etc) is no longer in copyright; or
  • the Copyright Act 1968 permits you to do so under ‘fair dealing’ provisions.

Fair dealing and research

The Copyright Act permits some copying without the express permission of the copyright owner. If a copyright use can be characterised as ‘fair dealing’ the Copyright Act provides that it does not infringe copyright. Fair dealing allows you for example, to reproduce a reasonable portion of a work for research or study, criticism or review, news reporting or professional legal advice.

Responsibilities of researchers

If you wish to reproduce a record held in our collection, it is your responsibility to determine:

  • whether the document, photograph, film or recording you wish to use is still in copyright
  • who owns the copyright, and
  • where and how to contact the copyright owner and obtain the approval required.

How long does copyright last?

Use the guidance provided in the table below to determine if a work is still in copyright.

The National Archives’ collection includes examples of all categories of records referred to below. Much of the material in the collection (eg the files produced by Commonwealth public servants in the course of their employment) comes under the category of ‘unpublished literary works’. Copyright in this material remains indefinitely, and you will need to seek permission for any use not covered by fair dealing.

Determining if a work is still in copyright

Where the Crown owns copyright

Published literary, dramatic or musical works (includes published official records)50 years after the end of the year in which the work is first published
Unpublished literary, dramatic, musical worksCopyright subsists indefinitely
Artistic works50 years from the end of the year when made
Photographs taken before 1 May 196950 years from the end of the year when made
Photographs taken after 1 May 196950 years from end of year of first publication

Where the Crown does not own copyright

Literary, dramatic or musical works published before the author's death70 years after the end of the year in which the author dies
Literary, dramatic or musical works not published or performed during the author's lifetime70 years after the end of the year in which first published or performed
Unpublished literary, dramatic or musical worksCopyright subsists indefinitely
Artistic works70 years after the end of the year of artist's death
Photographs taken before 1 January 1955Copyright expired
Photographs taken after 1 January 195570 years from the end of year when first published
Photographs first published anonymously or under a pseudonym (and taken after 1 January 1955)70 years from the end of the year in which the photograph was first published
Television and sound broadcasts50 years from the making of the broadcast

Extension of period of copyright protection from 1 January 2005

From 1 January 2005 the period of protection for material in which copyright subsisted on that date was extended, except for material in which the Crown holds copyright.

The new periods of protection are shown in the table above. The extended protection does not revive copyright in material in which copyright had already expired before 1 January 2005.

Obtaining permission to publish

For permission to publish copies of any records from our collection, please submit a copyright request or email copyright@naa.gov.au.

We can advise you whether copyright in the document is held by the Commonwealth. If the Commonwealth does not own the copyright, you will need to trace and seek the permission of the copyright owner.

This fact sheet provides general information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017