Copyright Common Sense Prevails

Millions of items from Australia’s national collections – from Captain Cook’s carrot marmalade recipe and Henry Lawson’s letters to war posters and theses – are out of copyright for the first time to be free for all to use.

The trove of new material is a result of changes to copyright law introduced by the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and other Measures) Act 2017.

Highlighted by the campaign Cooked for Copyright in 2015, an aberration of Australian law has meant that unpublished materials – from letters to diaries to shipping manifests – would remain in copyright in perpetuity. This means they rapidly become locked, unusable, behind laws that require you to seek permission from an often impossible to identify copyright owner before you publish, adapt or even copy them.

The new laws starting on 1 January reverse that, giving unpublished materials the same copyright term as their published counterparts. Consequently, Australia’s national collection will now have a copyright term of 70 years after the author’s death. The changes also create a new term of 70 years for materials with unknown authors, known as orphan works.

Some of the materials that are 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.

Australia’s libraries and archives are declaring 2019 the Year of the Public Domain. Throughout the year, they will host events to highlight newly freed materials show how they can be put to use, such as competitions, hackathons, exhibitions and remix festivals.

Australia’s libraries and archives will begin releasing the new public domain materials.

One of the first collections to be released will be the Henry Lawson papers held by Rare Books & Special Collections (RBSC) at the University of Sydney Library. These scrapbooks contain letters between Lawson and his agents, collaborators, peers and associates, and other personal material in Lawson’s own hand, revealing the complexities and human frailties of the man behind the legendary literary figure.

Image credit
Title: Women! help Australia’s sons win the war [picture] : buy war loan bonds
Created/Published: Sydney, John Sands, [1915-1918]
Copyright: Public Domain
From the collection of the National Library of Australia,