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 National 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 National 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 National 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 other record 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.

Use the guidance provided in the table below to determine if a work is still in copyright. Where copyright has expired, this is noted in the table; otherwise, the duration of copyright is as specified in the table.

The National Archives' collection includes examples of all categories of records referred to below.

Determining if a work is still in copyright

Further information (including examples of other categories of records) is available on the Department of Communications and the Arts website.

Obtaining permission to publish

For permission to publish copies of any records from our collection, please submit a copyright request or email

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 is general information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice.