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When is it okay to quote, reuse, or take inspiration from someone else’s work? This article sets out copyright law in Australia and when copyright infringement takes place.

Copyright Law

In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) provides owners of copyright with a set of exclusive rights to reproduce, publish, sell, or deal with their work in any way they choose. You will infringe someone’s copyright by using a substantial part of copyright material in a way this is exclusive to the owner. 

The Fair Dealing Exception

Permission from the owner is not the only way to use copyright material. The Copyright Act includes the fair dealing exception, which allows the use of copyright material for the following purposes:

  • Research or study;
  • Criticism or review;
  • Parody or satire; and
  • Reporting the news.

Is it Fair?

In addition to satisfying one of the purposes listed above, the use of the copyright material must be ‘fair’. Fairness is judged based on the circumstances and is decided on a case-by-case basis. It is not determined by whether or not you personally think it is fair.

Research or Study

The term ‘substantial part’ is not usually reduced to a number. However, for the purpose of research or study, there is a quantitative test, which provides that using 10% of the copyright material is a ‘reasonable portion’.  

If you want to use more than 10%, this is where the fairness test comes into play. To judge the fairness of the use of more than 10% of the number of words or pages of the material include;

  • the purpose of the use;
  • the nature of the work;
  • how much skill was required to create it; and
  • the effect on the market.

Criticism or Review

If using the copyright material for the purpose of criticism or review, there must be ‘sufficient acknowledgement’. This means that you will need to identify the author and the work clearly by title or other distinct description, such as a full citation or footnote. 

Parody or Satire

The key to avoiding infringement when it comes to parody or satire is creating a humorous commentary on the original work, rather than reproducing the material with a satirical tone.

Reporting the News

News can be reported in a newspaper, magazine, film or the like. The question is, what is considered news? The Courts have clarified that the reporting of news:

  •    Includes reporting recent events or new information on past events;
  •    Must involve a genuine news component; and
  •    Can relate to reviews or commentary.

Key Takeaways

  1. There is always an exception to the rule of not reusing copyright material.
  2. Consider the fairness factors. In addition to satisfying one of the purposes outlined in the Copyright Act, you must also show that the use is fair.
  3. Don’t let the fear of infringement stifle your creativity – if you are unsure, contact a copyright lawyer.
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