Short answer: The lifetime of the author, plus a few decades, depending on what type of work it is, and depending on where in the world the creator is.
Once the duration of copyright term is ended, the work becomes “out of copyright,” or, as the Americans say, “public domain,” which means that it can then be used by anyone, without needing permission, licensing or payment. In NZ, that term is mostly the lifetime of the creator, plus 50 years.
Although the recent Free Trade Agreement with the UK might change things, currently, the duration of that copyright in Aotearoa lasts for the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they died, for works in these disciplines: literary (including computer code,) dramatic, artistic, musical works.
For sound recordings and film, copyright lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or when it was made public (whichever is later.) Communication works last 50 years from the end of the calendar year of first broadcast. Publishers’ typographical arrangements last 25 years from the end of the calendar year of first publication.
According to the Copyright Act (1994), copyright is “a property right that exists in original works of the following descriptions: literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, sound recordings, films, communication works and typographical arrangements of published editions.”
Because copyright falls under property law, it can be transferred (“assigned,”) sold, and inherited, just like physical property. It’s wise to consider copyright as an asset, like a house, and to consider having a prenuptial agreement concerning rights of ownership, and including it in a Will, accounting for it in terms of an estate.
If someone inherits the copyright to a work, they have the right to use and benefit from it, in the same way the original creator did, which is why some books and artwork are published and displayed posthumously, and protected by copyright, even when the original author has passed away.
Are you interested in finding out how copyright applies to you?
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