Crown copyright is copyright with special copyright rules for the Crown, or the state, as claimed by the governments of Commonwealth countries. Crown copyright was defined to extend to any work prepared or published by or under the direction or control of His Majesty or any Government department.
Subject to the condition that the qualification
"Where a work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant of the Crown in the
course of his duties" is met, the Crown can also have copyrights assigned to it.
There is also a small class of materials where the Crown claims the right to control reproduction outside normal copyright law due to Letters Patent issued under the royal prerogative. This material includes the King James Bible, and the Book of Common Prayer.
In the 17th century, the Crown lost most of its rights,
except with regard to the King James Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, Acts of Parliament
and similar. Until 1911, there was no special status for the Crown, excepting those texts.
The concept of common law copyright protection was removed from British law by the Copyright Act 1911, and it also provided specific protection for government works for the first time.
The Copyright Act 1956 further extended Crown copyright protection by extending the definition to include every original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work made by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department; sound recordings or cinematograph films made by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department and works first published in the UK, if first published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or a Government department.
The scope of the definition of Crown copyright was
considerably reduced by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Crown copyright was
defined as subsisting when a "work is made by Her Majesty or by an officer or servant
of the Crown in the course of his duties".
Crown copyright was also defined as subsisting "in every Act of Parliament, Act of the Scottish Parliament, Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly or Measure of the General Synod of the Church of England". All existing works in Crown copyright were continued as such. Some documents have Crown Copyright waived by the government, subject to certain conditions. This was introduced in a white paper in 2000 in order to improve access to government publications.
Unpublished material was originally subject to copyright
protection in perpetuity. The 1988 Act removed this concept from British law. Transitional
provisions apply for 50 years after the entry into force of the 1988 Act which mean that
no unpublished material will lose its copyright protection until January 1, 2040.
New Crown copyright material that is unpublished has copyright protection for 125 years from date of creation. Published Crown copyright material has protection for 50 years from date of publication.
Those works protected under Letters Patent have perpetual copyright claimed over them despite being published.
Works where copyright is assigned to the Crown by an author are subject to the normal term of protection for that particular type of work, for example life of the author plus 70 years for a literary work.
Under Copyright Act 1968, the Australian Government owns copyright in any work, film or sound recording made by or under the direction or control of the Government, and any work first published by or under the direction or control of the Government.
The Copyright Law Review Committee's report, 2005 recommended an end to the distinction between the Crown and other copyright holders. The Committee recommended that the Crown lose its unique position of gaining copyright over material whenever it is the first publisher of such material. Under Crown Copyright, a previously unpublished short story, upon being published in a government work, would cease to belong to the author and would instead become Crown copyright, denying the author any future royalties.
All documents produced by the Government of Canada belongs to the Government.
Section 12 of the Copyright Act is the provision dealing with Crown copyright and gives copyright to the Crown in works that are prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department.:
"Without prejudice to any rights or privileges of the Crown, where any work is, or has been, prepared or published by or under the direction or control of Her Majesty or any government department, the copyright in the work shall ... belong to Her Majesty and ... shall continue for the remainder of the calendar year of the first publication of the work and for a period of fifty years following the end of that calendar year"
In New Zealand, Crown copyright is defined by Sections 2(1), 26 and 27 of the Copyright Act 1994. The Crown is the first owner of any copyright subsisting in any work created by a person who is employed or engaged by the Crown, under a contract of service, apprenticeship, or a contract for services. It covers works of the Queen in right of New Zealand, Ministers of the Crown, offices of Parliament and government departments. The term is 100 years.