Often referred to as a “treasure trove”, the Publication Right gives a new lease of life to old works that have never before seen the light of day.

The publication right gives a new period of copyright protection to certain unpublished art works in which copyright has expired.

This factsheet covers the following:

The nature of the Publication Right

A person who obtains the Publication Right has copyright protection in the work for a period of 25 years from the end of the calendar year of first publication.

Why it was introduced

The Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 1996 introduced the Publication Right from 1 December 1996. The UK was required to introduce the right to comply with a European directive and the right applies throughout the European Economic Area (EEA). 

Which artworks can benefit

The publication right applies to artistic works:
  • which were at one time protected by copyright;
  • which have never before been published anywhere, meaning they have not been made available to the public by any means (although no account is taken of publications not authorised by the copyright owner); and
  • in which copyright protection has expired.

The criteria that must be met

Works only qualify for the Publication Right if they were first published in the European Economic Area (EEA) and the publisher of the work, or at least one joint publisher, is at the time of first publication a national of an EEA state.

This contrasts with the usual rule in copyright, where qualification may be on the grounds of nationality or place of first publication. 

Who owns the right

The person who publishes for the first time a previously unpublished work after its copyright protection has expired. This right arises automatically and there is no requirement for registration.

Disclaimer: This factsheet is offered as a general guide to the issues surrounding copyright in this area. It does not represent an exhaustive account. It is not intended to offer legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. We strongly recommend you seek specialist advice for any specific circumstances.