2019 Australia’s Year of the Public Domain

27 Dec 2018

For immediate release

Canberra, Australia – 2019 will be a golden year for culture and learning in Australia. As of 1 January millions of items from our national collections – from Captain Cook’s carrot marmalade recipe and Henry Lawson’s letters to war posters and theses – will fall out of copyright for the first time, finally becoming free for all to use.

This wealth of new material is a result of changes to copyright law introduced by the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017. As those who Cooked for Copyright in 2015 will remember, an aberration of Australian law has meant that unpublished materials – from letters to diaries to shipping manifests – currently remain in copyright in perpetuity. This means they rapidly become locked, unuseable, 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The new laws starting on 1 January reverse that, giving unpublished materials the same copyright term as their published counterparts. This means most of 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.

Just some of the materials that will finally be 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. Throughout the year, we will be holding events aimed at highlighting the newly freed materials, and celebrating how they can be put to use for all Australians – including competitions, hackathons, exhibitions and remix festivals. Watch out for more information on each event as we get closer to it.

As a start, in January Australia’s libraries and archives will begin releasing the new public domain materials, flicking the switch for them to be reused by all Australians. 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.


Interviews and media contact

Ms Coates is available for interview by request. All media inquiries related should be directed to:

Ms Jessica Coates
Copyright and Policy Adviser
Australian Libraries Copyright Committee

02 6262 1118


Image: Women! help Australia’s sons win the war [picture] : buy war loan bonds, John Sands. Colour poster, 74.6 × 50 cm. Call Number: PIC Poster Drawer 187. This version has been resized. Original available on Trove, trove.nla.gov.au/nla.obj-135721145. In the Public domain. Reusable with no restrictions.

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