How Long Does a Copyright Last?

This article aims to explore the purpose of a copyright and the duration of copyright protection. It is important to know about the duration for which a copyright may last.
OpinionFront Staff
A copyright is an intellectual property, an intangible asset that protects an original literary work, works of fine art, architectural work, and computer programs, by granting exclusive rights to the creator to copy, modify, distribute, perform or display the work. Patents and trademarks are also intellectual properties. However, a patent protects ideas, inventions or methods of operation, while a trademark protects the products and services of a manufacturer. In other words, if an author wants to curtail plagiarism, he needs to seek copyright protection.
Is Copyright Protection Automatic?
In most parts of the world, the aforementioned works are protected by a copyright as soon as the work is created. In other words, copyright protection is automatic. However, if people register their work, they get a certificate of registration. This is useful if a person is seeking remedial measures for copyright infringement. In the U.S., people who have voluntarily registered original literary works and works of fine art can introduce the certificate of registration in a court of law as prima facie evidence. In fact, a successful litigant having a certificate of registration may have the right to claim statutory damages and attorney's fees.
How Long Does a Copyright Last?
Copyright laws are not uniform throughout the world. For instance, in Australia, till 1st January, 2005, a copyright protection lasted during the lifetime of the creator, and for 50 years after death. In case the work was not made public during the creator's lifetime, or the creator published his or her work under a pseudonym, which made it difficult to ascertain the true creator, the copyright protection lasted for 50 years from the date the work was first made public. The Free Trade Agreement between the U.S. and Australia came into force on 1st January, 2005, and resulted in extending the duration of the copyright protection by 20 years, for copyrights expiring after 1st January, 2005.
In the U.K., the duration of copyright protection depends upon the type of work. In case of films, literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, the copyright is valid for 70 calendar years from the date of death of the last remaining creator (principal director, author or composer) or from the time the work becomes public. For sound recordings and broadcasts, it lasts for 50 calendar years from the date of an authorized broadcast or performance or after the death of the last remaining author of the work. Typographical arrangement that covers the style, composition, layout, and appearance of a published work is protected by copyright laws for 25 calendar years from the date of publication.
In the U.S., generally, for works that have been created after 1st January, 1978, the protection lasts during the lifetime of the creator and for an additional 70 years from the date of death. In case the work was published under a pseudonym, copyright protection lasts for 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation. Different copyright duration laws apply for works published before 1978.
Although international copyright protection does not exist, U.S. copyright protection is valid in many countries, since the United States has fostered multilateral and bilateral agreements with many countries in the world. However, there are countries that do not provide any protection for foreign works. One has to ensure that one is reasonably comfortable with the copyright laws of different countries, before throwing open his/her work to the rest of the world.