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What is Copyright in Australia?

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Every business starts with an idea, which is a core part of how that business succeeds. There are a number of Intellectual Property (IP) protections available to any business. However, some forms of intellectual protection can be costly and time-consuming to finalise. Copyright, however, is an automatic IP protection that can protect your business’ original works. This article will provide a breakdown of copyright in Australia and the kinds of creations it can protect.

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What is Copyright?

Copyright is the automatic protection of the expression of original ideas. It is important here that it is not the idea itself that is protected but rather the expression of that idea. The ideas must be in ‘material form’ to receive copyright protection. 

Copyright can apply to written material such as:

  • books
  • articles; 
  • journals; 
  • designs; 
  • artworks; 
  • music; 
  • films; and 
  • media broadcasts. 

Once the original idea is manifested on paper or electronically, it is automatically protected by copyright. You do not need to take further steps or register your work to receive copyright protection.

Suppose you are daydreaming about an idea for a novel involving a clash of medieval families, betrayals and dragons. Does copyright protect this? No, as it is currently only in your head. However, once you write the novel, it is now protected by copyright. By writing the book, you have expressed the idea, which is now in a material form.

Copyright confers on the owner of intellectual property with the exclusive right to: 

  • publish; 
  • reproduce; 
  • adapt; and 
  • distribute their work. 

It prevents others from claiming the work as their own and the right to take legal action against someone who uses or claims their work without permission. Further, copyright is automatic and lasts for 70 years after the owner’s death. However, some forms of IP, such as company logos, designs or inventions, should receive additional protection by registering for trademarks or patents with the help of a lawyer.

In Australia, copyright is protected by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). This Act provides creators with protection that grants them exclusive rights to the copyrighted material they have created. These rights include:

  • the right to reproduce, publish and communicate the copyrighted material;
  • protects the expression of the idea/s (e.g. the novel discussed) rather than the ideas themselves (e.g. the story of Dragons and dynasties);
  • the protection is free and automatic in Australia, occurring once the material is expressed; and
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Copyright protects the creative expression of ideas. Some examples of things that are protected by copyright are: 

  • books; 
  • music; 
  • movies; and 
  • art in all its forms. 

However, it is important to remember that this list is not exhaustive, and copyright can protect many other ideas, such as databases, broadcasts, and computer programs. Copyright enables you to control the use of your creative expression. 

As the copyright owner, you can exploit your work by controlling how your work is distributed, performed, reproduced or adapted. Copyright is personal property, meaning that the author or creator of the right can also assign it to others to use.

Rather than writing your book, you decide to create a computer game using the same themes. Once you create the coding for the game and publish it, it has copyright protection. The key is that by turning your idea into an expression, you have granted yourself the right to commercialise your copyrighted material.

To establish that your idea, once expressed, will have copyright protection, you must generally satisfy one of the relevant factors below. These factors can and will vary according to the category of work or subject matter involved. 

Generally, to accrue copyright protection in Australia, you must satisfy the following tests:

  1. Qualified Person Test: As the creator of the material, you were a ‘qualified person’ at the time you expressed the idea. A ‘qualified person’ in the context of Australian copyright law is an Australian Citizen, protected person or resident. This also includes a body corporate incorporated under a law of the Commonwealth or a State, meaning that a limited liability company that is its own legal entity.
  2. Territorial Test: The expressed material was first published or made in Australia.

Are There Other Requirements?

Your expression of an idea will only gain copyright protection so long as it is original. Originality will be determined based on the labour, skill, and experience the creator has put into the work. However, this originality requirement only applies to the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. The key is that the expression of the idea must come from you, the creator. You cannot copy someone else’s expression of an idea.

Key Takeaways 

Copyright is an automatic legal protection that will protect the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. There is no specific registration process to establish copyright protection in Australia, meaning once you have tangibly expressed your idea, a copyright will attach to your work. So long as you are a ‘qualified person’ or the expressed material was first published or made in Australia.

If you need assistance understanding your IP rights, our experienced trade mark lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is copyright?

Copyright is the automatic protection of the expression of original ideas. The idea must be in ‘material form’ to receive copyright protection.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright can apply to written material such as books, articles, journals, designs, artworks, music, films and media broadcasts.

Hector Andrews

Hector Andrews

Law Graduate

Hector is a Law Graduate with LegalVision. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney and a Juris Doctor from the University of Technology Sydney. Before joining LegalVision, Hector worked in operations for a mid-tier commercial law firm for several years.

Qualifications: Juris Doctor, University of Technology Sydney, Bachelor of Arts, University of Sydney.

Read all articles by Hector

About LegalVision

LegalVision is an innovative commercial law firm that provides businesses with affordable, unlimited and ongoing legal assistance through our membership. We operate in Australia, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

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