Week 3: Copyright Clear Material

Copyright can be a slightly dry subject, but there are parts that it pays to know. Perhaps the most interesting is the rules around copyright free materials, that is to say material that can be freely distributed. This covers a whole range of material, from literature to musical recordings, and beyond. So what are the rules around copyright?

Copyright Fact Sheet

National copyright laws stipulate the duration of copyright, and the actual duration will vary between nation states. The content of this fact sheet reflects the provisions of the Berne Convention and should be regarded as a rough guide only. The UK copyright laws provide greater protection than required by the Berne Convention in general. For example, authors’ works are proteced by copyright until 70 years after their death.

  1. Typical duration of legal copyright protection:Normal protection provided by the Berne Convention is life of the author plus fifty years from death, with the following exceptions:
    • Film, cinematographic work:50 years from the making of the work, or if made available to the public within the 50 years, (i.e. by publication or performance), 50 years from the date the author first makes the work available to the public.
    • Anonymous works:50 years from the date made available to the public.
    • Artistic works, such as photographs and applied art:At least 25 years from creation.

    Duration will always run from January 1st of the year following the event indicated.

    In all cases, individual national laws can, and often will, allow additional protection over and above the terms of the Convention. For example, in the UK most work is protected for the life of the author plus 70 years. The Convention sets out what authors can realistically expect. There are also exceptions allowed for countries bound by the Rome Act.

  2. What happens when copyright expires?When the term of copyright protection has expired, the work falls into the public domain. This means that the work, has effectively become public property and may be used freely.It should be stressed that actual duration will vary under national laws, and you should check the laws of individual countries before you attempt to use a work.
  3. Can I claim copyright for a work that has expired?No, once a work is in the public domain it is available to all. You cannot stop others using the work and you will have no claim to copyright on the work.
  4. A special note regarding sound recordingsSound recordings will have a individual copyright separate to the underlying composition. If the underlying composition is in the public domain, it does not follow that a sound recording is.You cannot reproduce a more recent sound recording of a public domain work, though you may create your own sound recording from the public domain composition.
  5. A notable exception: Peter PanThe copyright for JM Barrie’s work Peter Pan, was due to expire in 1987 in the UK, but an amendment to the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act (instigated by Lord Callaghan) was passed to allow the copyright to run indefinitely in the UK. Any royalties are to be paid to the trustees of the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, for as long as the hospital exists.

You’ll find a handy summary of copyright periods here: http://www.nowal.ac.uk/upload/Digitisation_Project/How%20Long%20Does%20Copyright%20Last.doc

If you’d rather have copyright explained by tottering blobs, watch this:

And if you’d like to see YouTube’s vomit-inducing attempt to convey copyright to the masses, try this one:

That’s a whistle stop tour of copyright today. The things this week are all instances where copyright clear materials can be utilised. Enjoy!


You may find the University’s copy right pages useful including what is allowed under the Copyright Licensing Agency: http://www.rhul.ac.uk/library/helpandsupport/teachingsupport/copyrightadvice.aspx

Also JISC has some good materials: http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/crossmedia/advice/copyright-and-other-rights-for-creating-time-based-media-resources

Works of fine art

For any drawing, sculpture,  print, painting or watercolour the copyright runs out after 70 years. If the artist or their estate can not be found the artwork becomes known as an orphan work and it is likely that anyone using an image of the work will need to add a disclaimer to say that they have tried to find the owner of the copyright. With images in RHUL’s collection, if the work of art is out of copyright the photographs which the College have taken are in copyright and the copyright belongs to us as we took them.


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