• The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), confers a bundle of exclusive rights on creators of copyright material, including rights of reproduction, publication and communication, in subject matter such as literary works, artistic works and films.
  • Copyright protection in Australia is free and automatic.
  • Copyright protects the particular expression of ideas (e.g. the text of a book), and not the ideas themselves (e.g. the plot or storyline).

Copyright in Australia

Copyright protects the creative expression of ideas, in writing, music, visual images, moving images and computer programs. It can also protect other things like databases and broadcasts. It provides the exclusive rights to use, copy, license, perform and modify the creative work. A copyright notice states who created the work and when.

Copyright enables a person to control the use of their creative expression. It is a bundle of rights through which the copyright owner (or artist, musician, playwright, film-maker, etc.) can exploit their work, by controlling how their work is distributed, performed, reproduced, or adapted.

Types of Work

Common works protected by copyright are:

  • books
  • films
  • music
  • sound recordings
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • artwork

Copyright also protects created:

  • typographical arrangements
  • databases
  • media broadcasts
  • computer programs
  • compositions of other people’s work such as academic journals or CD compilations

Exclusive Rights

Copyright in literary, dramatic or musical works is defined in s.31(1)(a) as the exclusive right to do all or any of the following acts:

  • (i) to reproduce the work in a material form;
  • (ii) to publish the work;
  • (iii) to perform the work in public;
  • (iv) to communicate the work to the public;
  • (v) to make an adaptation of the work;
  • (vi) to do, about a work that is an adaptation of the first-mentioned work, any of the acts specified about the first-mentioned work in subparagraphs (i) to (v), inclusive;

Copyright in an artistic work is the exclusive right to (s.31(1)(b)):

  • (i) to reproduce the work in a material form;
  • (ii) to publish the work;
  • (iii) to communicate the work to the public; …

Establishing Copyright

Under the Copyright Act, copyright protection arises whenever one of the connecting factors is satisfied. These connecting factors vary according to the category of work or subject matter involved but essentially involves either:

  • A personal criterion – where the author of the work, maker of the subject matter or performer was a ‘qualified person’ at the time the work or subject matter was made or published or the performance was given. Qualified person refers to an Australian Citizen, protected person or resident for works (s.32(4)) and also includes a body corporate incorporated under a law of the Commonwealth or a State for other subject matter (s84(b)).
  • A territorial connection – the essential requirement is that the work or subject matter was first published or made in Australia.

Key Considerations

  • Copyright protection in Australia does not require registration or compliance with other formalities. The use of the © symbol is not required.
  • Copyright only protects information as embodied in material form, and not the underlying information or idea as such
  • For works to be protected, the work or other subject-matter must be original. However, this refers to the originality of the expression, not the underlying idea: the expression must “originate” with the author and not be derived or copied from someone else.

Copyright Infringement

To establish copyright infringement, it needs to be established that there has been a substantial reproduction of copyrighted work and that the final product is similar to the copyrighted work or material.

Acts that do not constitute infringement

There are numerous examples of acts that do not constitute copyright infringement under copyright laws, including the following:

  • Copying for research or study, criticism or review, parody or satire;
  • Copying for reporting news;
  • Reproduction for judicial proceedings or professional advice;
  • Temporary reproductions made in the course of communication or during a technical process;
  • Reproducing works in books, newspapers and other publications for private use;
  • Use in education;
  • Reproduction of labels for a chemical product;
  • Reading or recitation in public or for a broadcast; and
  • Reproduction in the public interest.

Frequently Asked Questions about Copyright Protection in Australia

Q: What is a negative copyright right?
A: A negative right protects against the appropriation of the labour of an author by another a power to prevent the making of a physical thing by copying.

Q: What are moral rights?
A: The Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 (Cth), gives the authors of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, or cinematographic films, various moral rights. Moral rights are defined as the right of attribution of authorship; the right not to have authorship falsely attributed; and the right of integrity of authorship

Q: Who is the author?
A: The author or creator of a copyright work is usually the person who first reduces it to material form. Thus, the author is not the person who has the idea or concept, but who gives expression to that idea.

Q: Can compilations be copyright protected?
A: Compilations are protected as literary works that are sufficiently original. They may involve putting together material that is available, the question being what degree of effort confers originality on the compiled work

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