Recently, you may have heard about George Orwell’s classic novel, “Animal Farm” which is now in the public domain. However, this does not mean you can access this book for free, just yet! It is true that the British journalist/author, George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair), who died in 1950, now has works that are in the public domain; but, they are in the Australian, Canadian, and Chinese public domain – to name just a few. That is correct, under these three countries – plus additional countries’ copyright law, copyright duration is the author’s life + 50 years, meaning that the copyright protection has expired for authors who have died before the year 1955 – with exceptions, of course. However, this is not true in the United States where the copyright term is the author’s life + 70 years, (unless there has been a copyright renewal on the material). Therefore, it would be illegal if you downloaded Orwell’s works in the United States.
Copyright terms vary by country, but for the most part, they adopt similar guidelines to protect intellectual property. In fact, more than 90% of the world’s countries – 184 Member States including the United States of America, are members of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This organization “was established in 1970 to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world through cooperation among States and in collaboration with other international organizations… The Organization became a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1974.” WIPO was not the first organization established to protect copyright. In fact, in the 1880’s the Paris Convention and Berne Convention were two of the original international treaties set up to protect intellectual property. Through the years the organizations merged and changed locations; and WIPO has expanded “with a mission and a mandate that is constantly growing.”
Therefore, if we go back and focus on copyright terms, for the most part they are similar for published works – the life of the creator plus an additional 25-100 years past their death. Here are a few examples of the differences across countries:
Australia: Life of the author + 50 years
Canada: Life of the author + 50 years
China: Life of the author + 50 years
France: Life of the author + 70 years
Italy: Life of the author + 70 years
Marshall Islands: No copyright
Mexico: Life of the author + 100 years
United Kingdom: Life of the author + 70 years
United States: Life of the author + 70 years
As you can see, copyright terms vary. Therefore, it is important to understand the differences should you travel frequently or live outside of the United States, especially if you access ebooks. To see a list of ebooks that are available in the public domain in the United States, feel free to visit the Project Gutenberg website, which offers over 39,000 free ebooks in which the copyright has expired. If you have any questions about this topic, or any other copyright-related question, please feel free to send us an email. As always, thank you for supporting the Copyright Center!
 “Generally, the rules prior to 1 January 2005 were that copyright lasted until 50 years from the end of the year in which the creator died, or for some material, until 50 years from the end of the year in which the material was first published. This period was extended, in most cases, to 70 years from the end of the year in which the creator died or 70 years from the end of the year in which the material was first published.” – http://www.copyright.org.au/find-an-answer/browse-by-keywords/