Copyright term - duration of protection

All copyrighted material has a term before its authors and others rights-holders lose exclusive rights and the data falls into the public domain. If data is of a certain age, it is possible that its term will change or end within its curation lifetime.

The term of copyright protection in most cases and under most jurisdictions (including the US and all the EU Member States since the Copyright Term Directive 1993 (93/98/EEC)) is 70 years after the death of the author, regardless of when the work was created. In practice it means that nearly all works created before 1860 are already in the public domain and therefore they can be freely used by everyone (although authors' Moral Rights must still be respected - they never expire). Exceptions to this rule are possible.

For more on copyright terms, see

Under German law

Term of protection (Die Schutzdauer des Urheberrechts)

  • § 64 UrhG: Protection is for life of author + 70 years
  • § 65 UrhG: Collaborative work - life of last surviving author + 70 years
  • Films: life of last surviving from a list of key creators (director, writer, composer, etc.) + 70.

Original source: Directive 2006/116/EC on the term of protection on copyright.

Special cases that may affect term of protection

  • Posthumous, unpublished works (Nachgelassene Werke) - aka editio princeps, publication right. First to publish or “communicates [work] to the public” gains rights for 25 years. § 71 UrhG
  • Scientific edition (Wissenschaftliche Ausgaben) - Previously published works, no longer protected, new scientific edition. Protected for 25 years after publication.“Editions of works or texts which are not protected by copyright shall be protected mutatis mutandis... if they represent the result of scientifically organised activity and differ substantially from previously known editions of the works or texts.” § 70 UrhG.

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