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University of Cambridge > CARET > Intellectual Property and Copyright in the Digital Environment

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4.3.1 For how long does copyright last?
This will depend on the work and nationality.  The term of protection or duration of copyright varies depending on the type of copyright work. For copyright works originating outside the UK or another country of the European Economic Area (EEA), the term of protection may also be shorter if it is shorter in the country of origin. There may also be variations in the term where a work was created before 1 January 1996. But in general, the terms of protection in the UK are as follows:

Type of work
When does copyright expire?
Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.
Works of unknown authorship
70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work is made. However, if the work is made available to the public during that time then copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made publicly available.
Computer- generated works
50 years form the end of the calendar year in which the work is made.
Sound recordings
50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made.  However if during that period the recording is published, copyright expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first published.  If the recording is not published by is otherwise communicated to the public, then copyright expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first so made available.
Films
70 years from the end of the calendar year of the death of the last to die of the following persons: the principal director; the author of the screenplay; the author of the dialogue; and the composer of music specifically created and used in the film. 
Broadcasts and cable programmes
50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast is delivered. 
Typographical arrangements of published editions
25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition is first published. 
Crown copyright literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work is made; or if published commercially within 75 years from the end of the calendar year it is made; or 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first so published, whichever period is shorter.
Photographs
In general terms it is the year of the photographer’s death plus 70 years or, if anonymous, 70 years from creation or, if made available to the public, 70 years from the end of the year in which that occurred. However, there is a complication in relation to photographs taken before 1 January 1996.  This is clearly and concisely explained on the government’s intellectual property web-site.  See www.intellectual- property.gov.uk and particularly www.intellectual- property.gov.uk/std/faq/copyright/photos_last.htm
It doesn't matter who holds the copyright when the author dies, the term is tied in with the original creator. Copyright can last a long time.
Two examples:
  • If a 20 year-old creates a computer program (defined as a literary work according the 1988 Act) today, and lives until he is 90, he and his dependents will have 140 years of copyright protection - the 70 remaining years of his life and 70 years following his death.
  • A copy of the complete works of Shakespeare that was printed in 1975 can be freely used - Shakespeare is long gone and the publisher's typographical copyright (25 years) has lapsed.
The National Archives post very useful copyright duration charts for published and unpublished literary, dramatic and musical works, artistic works and Crown & Parliamentary copyright. See www.nationalarchives.gov.uk, click on ‘copyright’ in the footer, click on ‘copyright guidelines’ and scroll down to Appendix 1. 
Information current as at 12 September 2005.
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