The expiry of copyright can have significant economic consequences to owners and competitors.

Once copyright expires, a work falls into the pubic domain and can thus be exploited at will.

As Handa wrote:

"Once copyright in a work expires, it falls into the public domain and may be copied freely without the consent of the author."

There has always been a tug of war between creators who seek a prolonged copyright period and the general public, who seeks to minimize the period of monopoly.

As early as the first editions of the Berne Convention on Copyright, lawyers from participating states reached a consensus on the life of the author plus 50 years enough, at the time, given the life expectancies at the time, to provide economic benefit to at least two generations of the author's descendants.

This was followed by many common law jurisdictions such as Canada.

In Brussels, circa 1948, the Berne Convention was enhanced to include photographs and film but the term of copyright was tweaked as well. Instead of a set period, as explained in Copinger and Skone James on Copyright:

"... the term of protection was to be that given by the law of the country in which protection was claimed, but was not to exceed the term fixed in the country of origin of the work."

The 50 years started on January 1 on the first calendar year following the author's death.

In 1911, the British Copyright Act was changed to reflect this standard and, ten years later, Canada adopted the same term in its Copyright statute.

When the European Union was created, it was noted that the term of copyright protection was 70 years post mortem autorius in Germany and 60 years in Spain. In 1993, the European Union issued a directive setting the standard at 70 years post mortem auctorius.

But in 1996, the European Union Directive on Term of Copyright (EU 93/98) imposed on England a post mortem auctorius of 70 years, creating some legal chaos by temporarily returning a number of recent additions to the public domain back under copyright protection.

The rationale was to ensure that the copyright still benefited at least two generations of the author's descendants, adjusted to the new enhanced life expectancies of Europeans.

But this has not impressed the rest of the world which has mostly stayed with the "life of author plus 50 year post mortem" term, as is the standard in the WIPO Copyright Treaty.

In Canada, the term remains the life of the author plus 50 years or, if there are joint authors, the life of the author that survives the longest, plus 50 years (1). The Canadian Copyright Act, 2010, section 6:<>

"The term for which copyright shall subsist shall, except as otherwise expressly provided by this Act, be the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year."

Works published post-humously in Canada, are presumed to have been published as of the date of death of the author; in other words, just 50 years.

Government works, if they benefit from copyright protection (which is now hotly contested by some intellectual property experts), is 50 years.

As for corporations who own copyright because they acquired it or the work was created by their employee during the course of employment labour, the term of the copyright would still be determined in reference to the individual author's life.

In Underwriters' Survey, Justice Duff wrote:

"Primarily, the incorporeal right is the right of the author. While a corporation could not be an author in the sense of the rule, still these incorporated companies could acquire title to the incorporeal right by assignment from the author and also through the authorship of an agent or servant or of an independent contractor, employed to produce a work in respect of which, in ordinary circumstances, the author would be invested with the right.....

"The members of the Association are all incorporated companies and I am unable to convince myself that they or any one of them could be an author within the meaning of the Copyright Act . Any one or all of them, that is to say, all the members of the Association at any given time, could be the owner or joint owners of copyright, but they could acquire copyright."

When corporations publish document with no author identified, the work is anonymous.

The Canadian statute, at s. 6.1, demonstrates the approach of law to the term of copyright to such works

"... where the identity of the author of a work is unknown, copyright in the work shall subsist for whichever of the following terms ends earlier: a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and a period of fifty (50) years following the end of that calendar year, and a term consisting of the remainder of the calendar year of the making of the work and a period of seventy-five (75) years following the end of that calendar year...."

In the United States:

"As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first."(2)