The Library maintains a number of collections containing rare and unique materials. Often these collections contain a mix of published and unpublished material.

In order to facilitate access, copying and publishing, donors of rare and unique material are asked to complete a  rights agreement which sets out agreed conditions under which a library patron may, for example, make copies for research or study, or publish an extract in a book.  Library staff will refer first to these rights agreements when determining how you may use material in a particular collection.

The following is a summary of the most commonly requested information about copyright and rights in the Pictures Collection.


In Australia, the artist or photographer initially owns the copyright in their work with the following exceptions:

  • A photograph taken by a photographer as part of their terms of their employment is owned by their employer. (Except in the case where the employer is the proprietor of a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, in which case the photographer will retain the right to control inclusion of the photograph in a book or as part of a hard copy news clipping service).
  • For a photograph taken prior to 30 July 1998, the copyright in photograph which was commissioned by a person other than the photographer belongs to that person. For a photograph taken after 30 July 1998, the copyright in a photograph commissioned by a person other than the photographer belongs to that person only if it was taken for a 'private or domestic purpose' (such as a family portrait or a wedding photograph).


The Australian Copyright Act defines a variety of periods of copyright protection. The main category that applies to the National Library's Pictures Collection is:

Life of creator plus 70 years, for

  • artistic works
  • photographs taken from 1 January 1955.

Photographs taken before 1 January 1955 are all out of copyright.


You may print or download any of the low resolution digitised images that you find in the Catalogue and use them for the purpose of research or study. If you wish to wish to use them for any other purpose, please declare your intention to publish.  We will let you know if you need to contact a copyright owner before you can use the image.

High resolution copies are only available for sale through our Copies Direct service. Once you have placed your order and declared how you will use the image, we will investigate the copyright status and let you know if you need to contact a copyright owner before we can fill your order.


Should you wish to publish material from the Library's Pictures Collection, you will need to declare your intention to the Library as custodian of the material. You will also need to obtain copyright clearance from the copyright holder(s) if the item is still in copyright. Please also provide an accompanying citation which acknowledges the National Library as custodian, and includes the name of the artist and a collection number for the item.

Flickr Commons

The National Library is a member of the Commons on Flickr.

Images from the Library’s collection that are part of the commons have 'no known copyright restrictions', which means that the Library is unaware of any current copyright restrictions on this work. This can be because the term of copyright for this work may have expired or that the copyright was held and waived by the National Library of Australia. A growing selection of images with no known copyright restrictions are being made available for public download through the National Library of Australia Commons on Flickr.