2019 – Australia’s Year of the Public Domain

In a recent Press Release, the Australian Libraries and Copyright Committee announced that 2019 will be a golden year for culture and learning in Australia. That’s because from 1 January, millions of items from our national collections fell out of copyright for the first time, finally becoming free for all to use.

This wealth of new material is a result of recent changes to copyright law giving unpublished materials the same copyright term as their published counterparts. An aberration of earlier Australian law meant that unpublished materials – from letters to diaries to shipping manifests – remained in copyright in perpetuity. They rapidly become locked and unusable behind laws that required you to seek permission from an often impossible to identify copyright owner before you could publish, adapt or even copy them!

Image credit: From the White family photo albums UNE @ Regional Archives A1473_17_37.b (cropped) Copyright: public domain.

Happily the new laws reverse that, giving unpublished materials the same copyright termas their published counterparts. This means most of Australia’s national collection now has a copyright term of 70 years after the author’s death regardless of whether the work was published during the author’s lifetime. The changes also create a new term of 70 years for materials with unknown authors, known as orphan works.

On the national stage, some of the materials that have been freed by the new provisions include:

* Captain Cook’s diaries and Jane Austen’s correspondence held at the National Library of Australia;

* Ephemera from both World Wars, including posters, postcards, and advertising;

* Handwritten manuscripts and letters from numerous Australian poets, including famed miners’ poet and socialist, Marie Pitt;

* The personal papers of a multitude of former Australian politicians, including Governor General Sir Isaac Isaacs and Premier of South Australia Sir James Penn Boucaut;

* Soldiers’ letters home, including love letters from acclaimed WWII RAAF pilot, Charles Learmonth;

* Indigenous language research from the papers of former Protector of Aborigines Archibald Meston;

* The records of one of Tasmania’s first banks, the Derwent Bank, including its historic “Convict Savings Bank” accounts.

To celebrate this great cultural windfall, Australia’s libraries and archives are declaring 2019 the Year of the Public Domain.

Keep an eye on the UNE Library Blog as we highlight national initiatives and maybe even make our own contributions from the UNE Library Special Collections and the UNE & Regional Archives.


This blog post is adapted from: Australian Libraries and Copyright Committee press release. See the original.
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