Intellectual property is a valuable asset for your business and it’s important that you take the necessary steps to secure its protection. One type of intellectual property that a business can own is copyright. This gives the owner an exclusive right of the copyright material to reproduce, reuse and republish it. However, there is a school of thought that seeks to override copyright and allow anyone to modify specific pieces of work. This form of licensing is known as copyleft and is commonly used in relation to software development. This article will explore the meaning of both copyright and copyleft and explain how they can affect the protection of your intellectual property.

What is Copyright?

Copyright attaches automatically to original artistic works. Therefore, you don’t need to register the right. When an author or creator expresses the idea in material form, the work gains copyright protection. Accordingly, you don’t have to publish material work for it to be afforded protection under copyright law.

For example, if a story idea is written down but not published into a book, the work will still receive copyright protection.

For material work to gain automatic copyright protection, it must:

  1. be an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work and not merely a copy of another;
  2. have been created by an Australian resident or citizen; and 
  3. have been made or first published in Australia.

While copyright protects the expression and execution of ideas, it does not protect the ideas themselves. Copyright prevents others from benefiting from copying or using the work without attributing the work to the owner of the copyright. Therefore, others can only republish or reproduce the copyright material when they have the owner’s permission.

Copyright law in Australia does provide for exceptions that allow someone to reproduce part of the works for particular purposes like:

  • reporting the news;
  • satire; or
  • parody.

Some of these exceptions are still untested in Australia and you should be careful in relying on these provisions.

Monitoring Infringement

As the copyright owner, it is your responsibility to monitor copyright infringement. Their material works are an important asset. Therefore, to ensure that others do not benefit from copying the work without correct attribution, you should monitor infringement.

What is Copyleft?

Copyleft, as the name suggests, heads in the opposite direction to copyright. Playing on the word ‘copyright’, copyleft overrides copyright and promotes the concept that materials should be:

  • freely used;
  • copied; and
  • modified by others.

Copyleft also requires that all versions of the material that users modify are freely accessible so that others can use and modify it. 

The principles of copyleft are commonly used within the software industry, where source code is often free for anyone to modify.

Key Features of Copyleft

Copyleft finds its roots in the open source movement, which promotes the idea of collaboration. Therefore, this means that some of the key features include:

  • not restricting anyone from selling or redistributing the software;
  • not restricting anyone from distributing modified or derivative works;
  • applying the same licence terms to all parties that you distribute the software to;
  • providing the source code in a form that aids the development of the software;
  • acknowledgement of each author’s contribution to each modification; and
  • no warranties supporting the performance of the software or that no one’s intellectual property rights have been infringed.

Why Software?

Copyleft licensing, frequently applied in relation to software, makes source code readily available and also allows others to modify and develop the code. The internet provides a suitable platform for sharing and developing source code. Therefore, open collaboration results in faster and more efficient development.

Creative Commons and Copyleft

Copyleft licensing is a form of Creative Commons licence, which is a system whereby a creator allows others to use their work without infringing copyright. However, users must still attribute the work appropriately. The attribution requirements vary depending on the type of Creative Commons licence. Nevertheless, the requirements generally prescribe that others must acknowledge the original creator of the work and adhere to the conditions attached to each licence.

You cannot revoke a copyleft licence. Although you may initially create source code or other copyright material for the enjoyment of others, it may become profitable at a later stage. Therefore, you should consider your decision carefully in light of the purpose of the copyright material. 

Key Takeaways

When creating intellectual property, it is crucial that you are aware of the different protections available to ensure that your works are not copied. Whilst copyright protection is automatic and simple, if you work in creating software, you may wish to consider revoking this licence to allow others to modify your source code. However, this decision is irrevocable and you must carefully consider whether it is right for your business. If you have any questions on copyright or copyleft, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

Dhanu Eliezer
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