Many people may come across copyright material they want to use, but do not know how, or from whom, to get permission. It could be something as simple as a photograph found on Flickr or as elaborate as a training manual found on a recruitment agency’s website. Although we may want to think that this copyrighted material comes at no cost, the reality is that this is not for us to decide! Copyright owners need to be contacted before you use copyright material and in many cases, permission is required. So how do you go about reaching the copyright owner?

Who is the copyright owner?

One of the most important things to note is that the copyright owner may not always be the creator of the copyright. This can happen in many instances, for example, an employee or contractor who creates their work for a company. It can also arise when a copyright creator has passed away and left their intellectual property to another party in their Will. Copyright can also be contractually transferred, which happens quite frequently in commercial transactions. Once it is clear who the owner is, you have the right person or company to contact.

When it comes to textual works that have been published, it will be useful to contact the publisher directly. The publisher may be able to provide you with permission or a licence to use the copyrighted material or provide you with details of the copyright owner if it is not them. There are various agencies such as the Copyright Agency or Australian Society of Authors who may be available to direct you to the relevant copyright owner.

Similarly in the film and music industry, the producers of the copyright will be the best first point of contact. For film, Screen Australia is a government agency who have a list of producers within Australia. If you want to screen films to the public, a distributor may be able to assist with organising a relevant licence. For music that is produced in Australia, the Australian Record Industry Association has a list of copyright owners that you can research and access to either obtain permission or a formal licence.

For textual or visual works found online that are self-published, it is best to contact the owner of the website at which you found the work to confirm that they own the copyright. Many websites have various copyright creators or use the material of other parties. The website owner should be able to direct you to the relevant copyright author.

Conclusion

In most cases, determining the copyright owner may involve multiple steps of enquiry. If you plan to use copyright material, under Australian law, you will not be excused of infringement if you just could not contact the copyright owner for permission. If you are conducting business, it is incredibly important to ensure you have permission for all the copyright material you use! Once you have found the appropriate copyright owner, our team of IP lawyers can assist in reviewing any licence agreements or permissions, so that you’re across all the terms and conditions you need to abide by.

Kristine Biason

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