Copyright Basics

The Copyright Act was recently amended by the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017. Find out more from the Australian Copyright Council.

Copyright

Copyright is a legal right for copyright owners to control how their works are reproduced and made public for a limited period of time.  It also provides limitations and exceptions that allow these works to be used by others in certain circumstances.

In Australia under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), copyright protection is free and applies automatically from the time a work is first created.

The standard copyright notice can be used to identify the copyright owner of a work, but is not a requirement.  For example:

© [or Copyright] [Author / Publisher] [Date]

Find out about

Protection

Material protected by copyright includes a wide variety of materials and works in print, electronic and online formats including:

  • literary works such as books, articles, web pages, emails, poetry, lyrics, databases and computer programs
  • artistic works such as paintings, photographs, sculptures, engravings, sketches, blueprints, drawings, plans, maps, and buildings or models of buildings
  • dramatic works such as plays, screenplays and choreography
  • musical works such as sheet music
  • sound recordings and films
  • radio and television broadcasts
  • published editions of works.

Some works such as films and musical recordings may contain several copyrights.

Copyright does not protect ideas, information, names, styles and techniques.

Duration

The duration of copyright varies according to the type of material and whether or not it is published. In most cases copyright lasts 70 years from the end of the year in which the creator died or 70 years from the end of the year in which the material was first published.

To find out if a work is out-of-copyright, you are advised to check the information sheet entitled 'Duration of Copyright' on the website of the Australian Copyright Council.

If copyright in an item has expired, it is considered to be in the public domain, and may be used without seeking permission or the need to comply with the Copyright Act.

IMPORTANT: From 1 January 2019, new standard terms of copyright protection will apply to original published and unpublished works, sound recordings and films.

Ownership

In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 gives exclusive rights to copyright owners. These include the right to:

  • reproduce the work in material form
  • publish the work
  • perform the work in public
  • communicate the work to the public
  • make an adaptation of the work
  • assign or licence their rights, for example to a publisher.

Infringement of copyright occurs if a work is used in any of these ways without the permission of the copyright owner, unless a copyright law exception such as fair dealing applies, or the use is licenced.

User rights

The Copyright Act provides a balance between the rights of copyright owners and the needs of the users of copyright material, including researchers, students, and teachers.

Copyright material can be copied and used for certain purposes without the need to obtain permission from the copyright owner. Examples include:

  • individual copying for research or study purposes
  • statutory copying for educational and teaching purposes
  • disability copying.