In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) confers a bundle of exclusive rights on creators of copyright material such as literary works, artistic works and films. Copyright:

  • includes rights of reproduction, publication and communication;
  • protection is free and automatic in Australia; and
  • protects the particular expression of ideas (e.g. the text of a book), rather than 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 content, such as 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 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.

Types of Work

Common works protected by copyright include:

  • books;
  • films;
  • music;
  • sound recordings;
  • newspapers;
  • magazines; and
  • artwork, including photographs.

Copyright can also protect:

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

Exclusive Rights

As an owner of the copyright in literary, dramatic or musical works, the law provides you with exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work in a material form;
  • publish the work;
  • perform the work in public;
  • communicate the work to the public; and
  • make an adaptation of the work.

In the artistic context, you also have the exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work in a material form;
  • publish the work; and
  • communicate the work to the public.

Situations Where You May Not Have Exclusive Rights

If you are an employee, your employment contract will generally outline who owns the intellectual property in work or material that you produce during the employment relationship. The employer will generally own all intellectual property, including copyright, unless the contract specifies otherwise.

If your employer commissions (i.e. pays) you to do work, the copyright in your work will remain with the employer. In this context, you may retain the rights to use your work for limited purposes. However, the broader copyright will remain with your employer or the person who has paid you to produce the work.

Establishing Copyright

You will have copyright protection under the law where you can satisfy one of the connecting factors. These connecting factors vary according to the category of work or subject matter involved, but essentially involves either:

  • a personal criterion; where you, as the author of the work, performer of a piece or maker of the subject matter, were a ‘qualified person’ at the time you made, published or performed the work or subject matter. A ‘qualified person’ refers to an Australian Citizen, protected person or resident. However, it also includes a body corporate incorporated under a law of the Commonwealth or a State; or
  • a territorial connection; where the essential requirement is that the work or subject matter was first published or made in Australia.

Copyright extends only to the degree to which a work is original. This is determined according to the labour, skill, and experience the creator has put into the work.

Key Considerations

  • Copyright protection in Australia does not require registration or compliance with other formalities. You do not need to use the © symbol to have copyright protection.
  • Copyright only protects information as embodied in material form, and not the underlying information or idea as such.
  • To gain protection of a work, 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 creator. You cannot derive or copy it from someone else.

Copyright Infringement

To establish copyright infringement, you will need to establish that: 

  • there has been a substantial reproduction of the original work; and 
  • the final product is similar to the copyright work or material. 

Acts That Do Not Constitute Infringement

There are numerous examples of acts that do not constitute copyright infringement under copyright laws. For example, this includes:

  • copying the work for research, study, criticism, 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; 
  • creating a painting, drawing or any artistic work based off work that is permanently situated in a public place; and
  • reproduction in the public interest.

Frequently Asked Questions About Copyright Protection in Australia

Q: What is a negative copyright right?

A: Copyright can be referred to as a ‘negative right’ as it serves to protect you by preventing or prohibiting other people from appropriating or copying your original work.

Q: What are moral rights?

A: The Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 (Cth) gives the authors of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and 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 produced it. Therefore, the author is not the person who has the idea or concept first. Instead, it is the person who first gives expression to that idea.

Q: Can compilations be copyright protected?

A: Compilations are protected as literary works if they are sufficiently original. As they involve putting together material that is already available, the question becomes what degree of effort confers originality on the compiled work.

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