State Archives Collection copyright & research guide

Outlines how copyright affects your use of State archives. It provides only general information and should not be used as legal advice.

More detailed information on copyright can be obtained from the Australian Copyright Council.

Copyright is the right of a person or organization - the copyright holder - to control the reproduction and use of a range of works including written material (such as letters and documents), musical works, artistic works, films and broadcasts.

Copyright also protects the right to communicate a work to the public, including publication, posting material on a web site and e-mailing material to the public.

The rights of copyright holders are contained in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth). How the Act has been interpreted also provides a basis for the way the law is applied.

The Government of New South Wales owns the copyright in a majority of records held as State archives. Copyright in State records produced by public servants, and in many cases individuals and companies contracted by the NSW Government, is held by the NSW State Government not by the individual author.

The NSW State Government does not hold the copyright in State archives provided by private individuals (such as letters) and other governments.

How we provide copies

We provide you with copies of records only for the purpose of research or in order for you to seek permission to publish from the copyright owner.

The fee you pay for copying material in our collection is only a copying fee. Accepting payment of the fee is not an approval to publish or use the material for anything but research or study.

Frequently Asked Questions

Further reading

See the Information Sheets on the Australian Copyright Council website.

They cover a range of topics, including:

  • Photographers and copyright
  • Duration of copyright protection
  • Quotes and extracts: copyright obligations
  • Family histories and copyright
  • Owners of copyright: how to find
  • Copying for research or study
  • Government and copyright
  • Digital Agenda amendments: an overview

From 1 January 2005 the protection period for non-government owned copyright was extended to a period of 70 years. The extended protection period does not revive copyright in material where the copyright expired before 1 January 2005.

There are many categories of works with varying durations of copyright protection. The list below provides some examples that most affect your use of our records. You should consult the Copyright Act or the Australian Copyright Council for more information.

The period of protection continues to the end of the year in which the copyright expires.

Type of material
Protection period
Government owned copyright in:
Literary works (includes written material)
Dramatic works
Musical works
50 years after the calendar year in which it was made
Artistic works (except engravings)
50 years after the calendar year in which it was made
Made before 1 May 1969
Made after 1 May 1969
50 years after the calendar year in which it was made
Non-Government owned copyright in:
Literary works
Dramatic works
Musical works
Published or performed before the author's death
Artistic works
Copyright expired by 1 Jan 2005 if creator died before 1 Jan 1955
If still in copyright on 1 Jan 2005 then 70 years after the the year in which the author died