Could copyright get any more complicated? There are so many factors that play into the laws governing each work, and determining the duration of copyright is no exception.

As a general rule for countries who are signatories of the Bern Convention (over 100 countries are members of this convention), the minimum duration of copyright is 50 years after the death of the author. Some countries, however, have chosen to increase this to 70 years after the death of the author.

Although there is a general rule of thumb, copyright duration can depend on any number of factors including: when the work was created, the nature of the work, the number of authors and whether they remained anonymous or used pseudonyms, and the country where the work was created.

In addition, the duration of copyright is usually calculated based on the authors, and not the owners of the copyright. In some cases, the author may sell their work so that someone else owns it. If this is the case, duration is still generally based on the author’s life, and not the owner’s.

Let’s take a look at each a number of factors that can affect the duration of copyright.

When was the Work Created?

In some countries, the date of creation of the work may have a significant impact on the duration of copyright. For instance, in the United States, works created after January 1st 1978 have a different copyright duration than works created before this date. In the U.K, 1996 is a significant date.

What is the Nature of the Work?

A very important variable in determining the duration of copyright is the nature of the work being protected. Is it a literary creation or a musical creation? Is it an artistic work or perhaps a sound creation? Depending on what the work is will change the duration of the copyright protection.

For instance, for cinematographic works, the term may be 50 years after the making of the work. For photographic works, protection is generally 25 years from the making of the work.

How Many Authors Are There?

The general minimum duration of copyright for Berne Convention countries is 50 years after the death of the author. When there are multiple authors, the minimum duration will be 50 years after the passing of the last surviving author.

Are the Authors Anonymous or do they go by Pseudonyms?

The duration can become more complicated when the authors are anonymous or go by pseudonyms. Since we do not know when the author passes for anonymous works, the general rule of duration is 50 years from the date the work was made available to the public.

In the case where the author’s identity is hidden with a pseudonym, the work may be protected for a period of 50 from the first publication, or 75 years from the making of the work (whichever is shorter). If, however, the identity of the author is identified, the regular ‘life + 50’ or ‘life +70’ rule would apply. Each country may have their own duration rules when it comes to Anonymous and Pseudonymous authors. For instance, the U.S. goes by the 95/120 rule where the duration is 95 years after publication or 120 after creation, whichever is shorter.

In What Country was the Work Created?

As discussed above, the nation in which the work was created can dictate differences in copyright duration. As well, according to the Berne convention’s Principal of National Treatment, nations will give nationals of other Berne countries the same treatment as their own nationals. For example, a work created in Canada enjoys the ‘life + 50’ rule for duration. However, in the U.S, they will receive the ‘life + 70’ rule because that is the law dictated in the U.S.


The above information is meant as a general guide to further your copyright knowledge and does not constitute legal advice. For questions about your specific work, you should consult a copyright lawyer in your country.