Copyright includes a bundle of economic rights, which provide protection on the owner’s creative work. The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) gives the owner exclusive rights to control the commercial exploitation of their work. This article will explore the different types of economic rights and the kinds of work they protect.

Protection of Works

First and foremost, your work can only be protected if it is expressed in a material form and if it is original. Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, but only the expression of those ideas. A creator cannot rely on copyright law if someone steals his or her idea before they have reduced it to a material form.

In Australia, copyright subsists in two different forms: works (literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works) and subject matter other than works (sound recordings, films, broadcasts and published editions of works).

For a copyright owner of literary, dramatic and musical works, the exclusive rights refer to the following acts:

  • Reproduction of the work in material form;
  • Publication;
  • Communication to the public;
  • Performance in public; and
  • Adaptation.

Owners of artistic works are limited to the following rights:

  • Reproduction;
  • Publication; and
  • Communication.

The exclusive rights concerning subject matter other than works consist of the rights to:

  • Reproduction;
  • Publication; and
  • Communication (except for broadcasts and published editions).

It is important to understand what all the economic rights entail so that, as the author, you know your rights, and as potential infringers, you know where to draw the line.


Reproduction of original works will only constitute infringement if it has been expressed in material form. For example, photocopying, scanning, recording or reproducing in a different format would be an infringement of copyright unless you have obtained permission from the copyright owner.


Publishing refers to making the work public either in print or electronic format.


Communicating work to the public involves making it available online through uploading it to an accessible platform. Communication also includes transmitting the electronically, for example by email, fax or other forums.


Performing the work in public includes any mode of visual or aural presentation.


Adaptation can include translating the work into another language or any other type of arrangement of the original work. If you want to use copyright material in a way that is covered by one of these rights, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


There are always exceptions to the rule. Economic rights may be transferred, assigned or licenced to another party. Sometimes, using copyright material in a way that is exclusive to the owner does not infringe copyright if it comes under the Fair Dealing exception.

Key Takeaways

  • Know which work you are protecting – different types of work come with different types of rights. Make sure you are aware what exclusive rights you can enjoy as the owner of your work.
  • Understand the owner’s rights – to avoid infringement disputes, understand the basics of each economic right.
  • Ask for help – copyright varies between different types of work so it is important to understand the protection you are entitled to.

LegalVision has an experienced team of Intellectual Property lawyers who can assist you. Call our office on 1300 544 755 or get in touch with the form on this page.

Alexandra Shaw
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