Copyright protection only runs for a limited period of time: "out of copyright" means that the restrictions on use imposed by copyright law have expired. The duration of copyright can depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The nature of the work: different rules apply to different formats.
  • Who was the "author" (i.e. the creator) of the work: the duration of copyright is usually determined by the lifespan of the author, even if copyright is owned by someone else (e.g. the author's employer or publisher). If a work has more than one author, the duration of copyright will depend on the date of death of the last surviving author.
  • When the work was created or first published. Copyright law is not fully retrospective, so the duration of copyright can be determined by the law in force at the time of creation or first publication.
  • Whether the work is published or unpublished.
  • Whether the work was created/published in the UK or overseas.

These factors mean that it can be difficult to determine whether the copyright in an item has expired. A table is available which summarises the duration of copyright in UK-created literary works, dramatic works, musical works, artistic works other than photographs or engravings, photographs and sound recordings. It also indicates whether there are exceptions in copyright legislation which allow older material to be copied even if it is still within copyright, and the rules that apply to material created outside the UK. Films, broadcasts, databases and Crown Copyright material are not covered: for advice in these areas, contact the Information Compliance Manager (see Additional information and advice ).

Last updated May 2008