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How long does copyright last?

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:

  • Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work lasts for the life of the author and 70 years from the end of the year in which he/she died.
  • Copyright in a film expires 70 years after the end of the year in which the death occurs of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film.

Currently, copyright in a sound recording expires 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 50 years from the end of the year of publication. If not published during that 50 year period, but it is played in public or communicated to the public during that period, 50 years from the first of these to happen. In September 2011 the European Union approved a directive External Link which will extend the protection period for sound recordings and performers’ rights in sound recordings to 70 years.

  • Copyright in a broadcast expires 50 years from the end of the year of making of the broadcast.
  • Copyright in a published edition expires 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

The current terms of protection were introduced or confirmed on 1 January 1996 when copyright terms throughout the EEA were harmonised. The above terms now apply to many works created before this date - further details of how the new copyright terms apply to such works are available on our extended/revived copyright page.

The term of protection is particularly complicated for photographs taken before 1 January 1996.