The Length of Copyright

The Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performance Regulations 1995 implement EU Council Directive No 93/98/EEC and the European Economic Area 1993, which harmonise protection of copyright and certain related rights. In effect, they extend the length of copyright and moral rights for artists and their heirs to 70 years after death, rather than 50 years, as from 1 January 1996.

The UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 already grants some of the terms of protection required by the Directive, but these new UK Regulations amend and extend the 1988 Act where it does not yet fully comply with the Directive and the European Economic Area Act 1993. The changes harmonise throughout the EU the length of copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works from the authors lifetime plus 50 years after death to the authors lifetime plus 70 years after death.

A special category of work is the subject of special provision: works made by UK artists who died before 1945, but whose works were given protection by some EU countries for more than 50 years from their death, are now given extra protection in the UK.

In relation to copyright in films, harmonisation changes are radical. Up to December 31 1995, copyright in films lasted for 50 years from making: from January 1 1996 copyright in films will last for the lifetime of certain people connected with the making of the film, plus 70 years after the death of the last of them. That’s the straightforward and good news for all copyright owners and their heirs. The more difficult news is how the transitional provisions work. They operate as follows:

Works made by UK artists who died in 1944 or before
Copyright in such works expired 50 years after the artist’s death. For example, copyright of an artist who died in 1944 would have expired in the UK on December 31 1994: similarly copyright of an artist who died in 1894 would have expired in the UK on December 31 1944. There is no change to the copyright position in relation to nearly all such works: copyright no longer exists. (However, see the special provisions relating to such works that were protected in other EU countries, below).

Works made by UK artists who died between January 1 1945 and December 31 1995
Copyright in such works should have expired 50 years after the artist’s death. For example, copyright of an artist who died in 1946 should expire on December 31 1996; similarly copyright of an artist who died in 1976 should expire on December 31 2026. However, under the new provisions, copyright in such works is extended to 70 years after the artist’s death. That is to say: copyright of the artist who died in 1946 will now expire on December 31 2016 (not 1996); and copyright of the artist who died in 1976 will now expire on December 31 2046 (not 2026).

Works made by UK artists dying in 1996 or thereafter
Copyright in such works now expires 70 years after the artist’s death.

Works made by UK artists in which copyright had expired in the UK by June 30 1995
A special category of work is the subject of special provision: works made by UK artists who died before 1945, but whose works were given protection by some EU countries for more than 50 years from their death, are now given extra protection in the UK. For example, the copyright of a UK artist who died in 1923 would have expired on December 31 1973, but would have been protected in, say, Germany beyond 1973. Under the new provisions, copyright in such artist’s work is revived in the UK from January 1 1996 and lasts for 70 years from the artist’s death (ie until December 31 1993). That is because copyright in Germany already lasts for 70 years after death (and has done so for many years); UK artists, who would have been protected there for 70 years after death, are now protected in the UK for 70 years from their deaths.

Moral rights
These provisions relating to copyright also apply to extend moral rights of artists to last for 70 years after death, instead of 50 years after death (as was the case before the new Regulations came into force on January 1 1996): except the moral right relating to false attribution of authorship.

© Henry Lydiate 1996

 

 

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This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material. The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.