Unit 2A Applied Information Technology


An Introduction to Copyright in Australia




Key points

• Copyright protection is free and applies automatically when material is created.

• There is NO registration system for copyright in Australia.

• Copyright does not protect ideas, information, styles or techniques.

• Copyright does not protect names, titles or slogans.

• There are no general exemptions from copyright law for non-profit organisations.

• There are some situations where copyright law allows people to use copyright material without 
permission for their own personal use, but these are narrow and specific.

• Australian copyright law applies to actions that take place in Australia, even if the material used was created or first published in another country. 



Copyright law


Copyright law creates incentives for people to invest their time, talent and other resources in creating new material – particularly cultural and educational material, which benefits society. 
In Australia, copyright law is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). This is federal legislation, and applies throughout Australia. 


Although the Act dates from 1968, it sets out how copyright applies for material created both before and after that date. It has been regularly amended since 1968, to bring it up to date with evolving technologies and concerns. In addition to dealing with copyright rights, the Act also deals with performersʼ rights and the “moral rights” of individual creators. 


In many cases, Australian courts have had to decide how the Copyright Act is to be interpreted and applied. Therefore, if you want to know how copyright law will apply to a particular situation you are facing, you will generally need to be aware not only of what is in the Copyright Act but also of how courts have approached the issues and interpreted the Act.


What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects:

textual material (“literary works”) such as journal articles, novels, screenplays, poems, song lyrics and reports;

computer programs (a sub-category of “literary works”);

compilations (another sub-category of “literary works”) such as anthologies – the selection and arrangement of material may be protected separately from the individual items contained in the compilation;

artistic works such as paintings, drawings, cartoons, sculpture, craft work, architectural plans, buildings, photographs, maps and plans;

dramatic works such as choreography, screenplays, plays and mime pieces;

musical works: that is, the music itself, separately from any lyrics or recording;

cinematograph films: the visual images and sounds in a film, video or DVD are protected separately from any copyright in works recorded on the film or video, such as scripts and music;

sound recordings: the particular recording itself is protected by copyright, in addition to, for example, the music or story that is recorded;

broadcasts: TV and radio broadcasters have a copyright in their broadcasts, which is separate from the copyright in the films, music and other material which they broadcast; and

published editions: publishers have copyright in their typographical arrangements, which is separate from the copyright in works reproduced in the edition (such as poems or illustrations or music). 


Something that is a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work for copyright purposes will be protected if it is “original”. In copyright terms, itʼs not hard for something to be original: it really just means that the work isnʼt a mere copy of something else. 


It is important to note that a physical item can contain a number of different and separate copyrights. For example, a CD will usually be made up of at least one sound recording as well as a number of musical works and song lyrics: each of these may be separately protected. Similarly, a DVD or video will usually contain not just moving images and sounds on the soundtrack, but also a screenplay and music, each of which may be separately protected. 



What is not protected by copyright? 


Ideas, concepts, styles, techniques and information


Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles, techniques or information. 
For example, if you write an outline of your idea for a TV show, the written text will be protected by copyright and, generally, someone wanting to reproduce it would need your permission. However, someone else could write their own script, using your ideas, without necessarily infringing your copyright.


Copyright would only be an issue if someone copied or paraphrased an important or distinctive part of your written work (see “Infringement”, below). In some cases, however, people using your ideas or information or styles could be in breach of other laws (see “Other areas of law”, below).

Names, titles and slogans

Some things are too small or unoriginal to be protected by copyright. For example, single words (even invented words), names, titles, slogans and headlines are unlikely to be protected by copyright.

In some cases, however, someone using a name, title or slogan which is already being used by someone else may run into problems with other areas of law, such as trade marks. For further information, see “Other areas of law”, below, and our information sheet Names, titles and slogans.


People and peopleʼs images (images of their face or body) are not protected by copyright. Sometimes, however, other areas of law, such as defamation and the Competition and Consumer Act, can affect the circumstances in which a personʼs image can be used (see “Other areas of law”, below).

Copyright protection is automatic

You do not apply for copyright in Australia, and there is no system of registration here. Nor are there any forms to fill in, or fees to be paid.

You do not need to publish your work, put a copyright notice on it, or do anything else before your work is covered by copyright – the protection is free and automatic, from the time a work is first written down or recorded in some way. For example, as soon as a poem is written, or a song is recorded, it is protected.

The “copyright notice” and “©”

The copyright notice consists of the symbol ©, followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year of first publication: for example, “© Gus OʼDonnell 1968”. For sound recordings, the letter “P” (for phonogram) in a circle or in brackets is used instead of the “C” in a circle.

The “copyright notice” does not need to be on something to ensure that it is protected by copyright in Australia or in most other countries, but it does remind people that the work may be protected. It also lets people know who is claiming copyright.

Copyright owners can put the notice on their work themselves; there is no formal procedure.

Generally, while there is no legal problem under Australian law in using a pseudonym or “nom de plume”, in a copyright notice you should use your real name. As one well-known commentator has stated, “the use of a pseudonym would frustrate the intent ... of making traceable the copyright proprietor” (Arpad Bogsch, The Law of Copyright under the Universal Convention, Sijthoff, Leydon, 1972, p. 28).

If a company owns copyright, the copyright notice should include the name of the company. However, if someone trades under a business name, the correct name to put in the copyright notice is not the business name but the names of the relevant individual or individuals. The reason for this is that copyright is a form of property, and a business name is not a legal entity, and therefore cannot own property; only individuals and incorporated bodies such as companies can own property (including copyright). You could, however, use a formulation such as “© Bob Jobs t/as Jobs4U 1983”, where the “t/as” indicates that at that time Mr Jones was “trading as” that particular business name.

If you are regularly updating a work (such as material on a website, or a computer program), you can include all the years from first publication to the present: for example, “© Gus OʼDonnell 1998– 2012”.

Sometimes you will see the words “All rights reserved” as well as, or instead of, the copyright notice. This is not necessary under Australian law, nor in most other countries. However, if the first publication of your work will be in a country outside Australia, you should seek advice from a solicitor with the relevant expertise.


How do I prove Iʼm the copyright owner if thereʼs no registration system?

If thereʼs a dispute about who created something protected by copyright, it may need to be resolved by a court. There is a presumption that a person named in a copyright notice is the copyright owner. However, a court would look at all the relevant evidence such as, oral evidence from the creator and from people who saw the material being created or who saw early copies. Other evidence may include drafts of the work.
Such cases are, however, extremely rare.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, someone who goes to court claiming they own copyright when they donʼt runs very large financial risks, as they might have to pay not only compensation but also both their own and the other sideʼs legal costs. Second, there are provisions in the Copyright Act which allow people who have been groundlessly threatened with copyright infringement to take action against the person making the threat. Third, if someone claims in court that they have created a copyright work when they havenʼt, they risk perjury charges (a criminal charge for lying to the court).


How long does copyright last?

Until 1 January 2005, copyright generally lasted for the life of the relevant creator plus 50 years. There were various exceptions to this rule, including:

• where a work was not published, performed or broadcast during a creatorʼs lifetime; and

• where something was published anonymously or under a pseudonym, and the identity of the 
creator couldnʼt reasonably be ascertained. 
(In each of these cases, copyright lasted for 50 years from the end of the year the work was, with permission, first published, performed or broadcast.) 


Under the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Australia agreed to extend the general duration of copyright. As a result, the rules now are that copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years and where duration depends on year of publication, it lasts until 70 years after it is first published. 


The Free Trade Agreement did not, however, include any obligation to revive copyright if copyright had already expired. This means that if, under the old rules, copyright had already expired by 1 January 2005, it stays expired and the material can be used freely under Australian law. 
Note, however, that the duration of copyright varies from country to country. Where, for example, material is to be reproduced or sold overseas, or where performances are to take place in another country, advice may be needed to determine whether relevant copyright material is still protected in that country, and therefore whether any permissions may be needed in relation to the use of the material in that country.


Who owns copyright?

The Copyright Act sets out rules about copyright ownership. However, people involved in creating copyright material can reach agreement about who will own copyright.

Whether or not the rules in the Copyright Act will be followed, if there will be more than one person involved in the creation of material or where material is commissioned, itʼs a good idea to have a written agreement about who will own copyright.

The general rule under the Act is that the first owner of copyright is the creator of the work, or the person responsible for making the sound recording, film, broadcast or published edition. There are, however, important exceptions to this general rule set out in the Act:

Employees. Where a work is made by an employee (rather than a freelancer) as part of that personʼs job, the employer usually owns copyright. For people employed on staff who are creating material for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, the employer will own most of the copyright, but the employee will usually own copyright for some purposes (photocopying and publication in books).

Freelance photographers, engravers and people doing portraits. Freelance creators usually own copyright in what they create. Someone who pays for work to be created will generally not own copyright, but will be able to use it for the purposes for which it was commissioned. However, there are a number of situations where someone who commissions another person to create material for them will own copyright under the rules set out in the Copyright Act. This is the case in relation to commissioned portraits and engravings, and is sometimes the case for photographs.

Films and sound recordings. The first owner of copyright in a film is usually the producer or the person who paid for it to be made. The first owner of copyright in a sound recording is usually the person who paid for the recording to be made. However, in some cases, performers recorded on sound recordings own a share of the copyright in those sound recordings.

A State, Territory or Federal Government will usually own copyright in material created, or first published by it or under its direction or control. 
Any of the rules in the Copyright Act about who will own copyright can be altered by agreement. 
For more detailed information about the rules in the Copyright Act, including information about how the ownership rules have changed over time, see the information sheet Who Owns Copyright . 


The copyright ownerʼs exclusive rights 


Owners of copyright have a number of exclusive rights over their material. Anyone who wants to use someone elseʼs material in any of these ways generally needs permission. 
Different rights apply to different types of material. 


Literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works 


Owners of copyright in “works” have the exclusive right to: 

• reproduce the work (including by photocopying, copying by hand, filming, recording and 

• make the work public for the first time; and

• communicate the work to the public (for example, via fax, email, broadcasting, cable or the internet). 
Owners of copyright in literary, dramatic and musical works have two additional exclusive rights:

• to perform the work in public (this includes performing a work live, or playing a recording or showing a film containing the work, in a non-domestic situation); and

• to make an adaptation (for example, a translation or dramatised version of a literary work, a translation or “non-dramatic” version of a dramatic work, or an arrangement or transcription of a musical work). 


Films, sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions 


Owners of copyright in films, sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions have the exclusive right to copy their material. In addition, there are rights relating to:

• showing films and playing recordings in public;

• transmitting films and sound recordings to the public using any form of technology (via email, 
broadcasting, cable or the internet, for example); and

• rebroadcasting television and sound broadcasts. 


Rental rights 


Owners of copyright in computer programs, sound recordings and works on sound recordings (such as music) have the exclusive right to rent out articles such as compact discs and CD-ROMs. 


Control over importation 


In some cases, copyright owners can also control who imports copies of their material into Australia. This can be the case even if the material was legitimately made overseas. 



Assigning and licensing rights 


Copyright owners can “assign” (generally, sell) or license their rights. Assigning rights means someone else becomes the copyright owner; licensing means another person can use the copyright material. 


Assignments and licences can apply to all the rights in the material, or to just one or some of the rights. For example, a writer can assign or license just the right to reproduce his or her story in a book, but keep all other rights.


In addition, a copyright owner may restrict an assignment or licence in various ways: to particular countries; or to a particular period of time; or to a set number of copies; or to a particular format (for example, hard-copy only, or in brochures but not in posters), for example. A copyright owner may also set certain conditions, such as payment, as part of their agreement to assign or license rights.

While assignments and exclusive licences must be in writing and signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner to be fully effective, it is good business practice to put all agreements relating to copyright into writing. This need not be a formal document, in many cases an email will be sufficient.

Infringement of copyright


Using copyright material in one of the ways exclusively reserved to the copyright owner without permission

Unless a special exception applies, people who use copyright material in any of the ways exclusively controlled by the copyright owner without permission infringes copyright.

Using part of a work without permission may also infringe copyright if that part is an important part – the part doesnʼt need to be a large part. In this context, the issue is not whether you have changed or added something to the copyright material, but whether the part you have used is an important, essential or distinctive part of the original material.

Other ways in which copyright can be infringed

People may also infringe copyright if they:

• authorise infringement (that is, endorse or sanction someone elseʼs infringement – for example, by asking or encouraging them to infringe copyright, or by providing them with the means to do so);

• import certain types of items containing copyright material (see our information sheet Importing copyright items); or

• sell infringing articles or certain types of items containing copyright material which were imported without permission. 


You can find further information on what to do if you think your copyright has been infringed or if you have been accused of having infringed copyright in our information sheets Infringement: what can I do? and Infringement: actions, remedies, offences, penalties. 


Hacking, cracking, “mod chipping” and decoding 


Copyright owners and broadcasters sometimes use technology to try to protect digital material from unauthorised access or use (for example, by encrypting material or encoding broadcasts). In some cases, copyright owners also use technology to identify and monitor digital copies of their material (“electronic rights management information”). 


Under the Copyright Act, copyright owners can take action against people who circumvent technological measures which control access to copyright material. Copyright owners can also generally take action against people who make, sell, import or rent out devices which are used to circumvent technological measures and against people who provide circumvention services.


Copyright owners can also take action against people who remove or alter electronic rights management information. In many cases, it can also be a criminal offence to deal commercially with circumvention or decoding devices, to offer decoding or circumvention services, to alter or remove electronic rights management information, or to deal with copyright material knowing that rights management information has been removed from it.


Activities which donʼt infringe copyright

There are a number of situations in which people can use copyright material without permission. The provisions in the Act which cover these situations (referred to as “defences” or “exceptions”) are mostly very specific.

For example, there are provisions that allow reviewers and students to use copyright material without permission provided their use is “fair”. There are also special provisions for libraries, educational institutions and government bodies. In some cases, certain procedures must be followed, and in some cases fees must be paid.

There are, however, no provisions in the Act that give non-profit organisations a general exemption from having to comply with copyright obligations merely because they are non-profit. The exceptions allowing certain “personal uses” of copyright material – including taping from TV and individuals copying recordings they own – are very narrow and subject to specific limitations.


Moral rights

Individual creators have rights called “moral rights”, whether or not they own copyright. These are the rights to:

• be attributed as the creator of their work;

• take action if their work is falsely attributed as being someone elseʼs work or is altered by 
someone else but attributed as if it were unaltered; and

• take action if their work is distorted or treated in a way that is prejudicial to their honour or reputation. 


Performers' rights


The Copyright Act also gives some rights to performers. These rights are in addition to the rights of the copyright owners and creators of the material performed. 
Under the Act, people generally need to get consent from a performer to record or broadcast a live performance. The performerʼs consent may also be needed to use an unauthorised recording of a performance, or to use an authorised sound recording of a performance on a film soundtrack. Performers on audio recordings have additional rights, including moral rights. 


General advice to creators and copyright owners 


Creators and owners of copyright should regard their copyright as valuable property and deal with it in a business-like way. It is a good idea to keep dated copies of material such as manuscripts, negatives, footage and recordings, as well as copies of all letters or other communications with people who have access to the work.

Generally, it is a good idea for any agreements about copyright to be in writing. It is also a good idea to get legal advice before signing any document dealing with copyright, or before finalising any other arrangement relating to copyright.

Other areas of law

“Intellectual property” is a general term covering a number of areas of law. Copyright is one of these areas. Some other areas of law are sometimes confused with copyright. We briefly outline these below.

Trade marks

If you are using a name or logo (and in some cases, a colour, sound or smell) in your business, you may be able to register it as a trade mark. Unlike copyright, trade mark protection requires registration and paying a fee. Registration gives you protection against other people using a substantially identical or deceptively similar mark in the course of trade. Trade marks are registered with IP Australia, www.ipaustralia.gov.au

“Passing-off” and the Australian Consumer Law

The law known as “passing off” protects business reputation or goodwill. It can be used to stop people “cashing in” on someone elseʼs name (including a brand name) or image, or on other distinctive features of someone elseʼs “business”. There are similar provisions about misleading the public in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth).


Designs law may be used to protect articles that do not come within the scope of copyright law or where copyright protection is limited. Designs protection covers the appearance or shape of articles that have some functional purpose, not how they work. To get design protection the design must be registered with IP Australia, www.ipaustralia.gov.au

The interaction between design law and copyright is in some cases very complex. If you have created something which might be protected under either or both areas of law, it is very important that you get appropriate and early legal advice.


Confidential information

Copyright does not protect ideas or information. However, someone using information or ideas they have got from someone else in confidence may have breached a duty of confidentiality.



Patents protect inventions, including processes, methods and techniques. However, the protection will only be granted for a device, substance, method or process if it is new, inventive and useful. Patent protection requires registration with IP Australia, www.ipaustralia.gov.au



The law of defamation protects peopleʼs reputations, and concerns the way you speak about or refer to people and how you use their images.


Some common questions


Where do I register my copyright for protection in Australia?

Under Australian law, there is no registration of copyright. Copyright rights come into existence at the same time as someone creates something which is a type of material that copyright protects. For example, copyright is automatically created by writing down a story; typing up a poem; shooting film footage; recording music; and taking a photo. Copyright protection is free: there are no procedures to follow or fees to pay.

How many changes to something do I need to make to avoid infringing copyright?

Generally, making changes to something wonʼt avoid a copyright infringement.
If, for example, you want to use something someone else has created – on your website, or in a brochure, or even for purely personal purposes – you might need permission even if you are using only a small part of that material, or if you make changes to it.

When working out whether or not you will need to get permission, it is more important to look at what is still the same, rather than what has been changed. You will usually have a copyright issue to deal with if you are using any important, distinctive or essential part of the original material – this may or may not be a large proportion of that material.

Is material from overseas protected by copyright?

As a result of Australiaʼs obligations under a number of international treaties, almost all copyright material created overseas is also protected in Australia under the Australian Copyright Act.

Is material from Australia protected overseas?

As a result of a number of international treaties, copyright in material created by Australian residents, citizens and nationals is recognised in most countries overseas.

Can children own copyright?

Copyright material can be created (and owned) by anyone, no matter what their age: children or centenarians.

Research sources

The Copyright Act can be viewed online at:

Further information

For further information about copyright, and about our other publications and training program, see our website – www.copyright.org.au

If you meet our eligibility guidelines, a Copyright Council lawyer may be able to give you free preliminary legal advice about an issue that is not addressed in an information sheet. This service is primarily for professional creators and arts organisations but is also available to staff of educational institutions and libraries. For information about the service, see www.copyright.org.au


Download a copy of this document

© Australian Copyright Council 2012



This weeks task


To revise your annimation skills you have to create a 30 second text based video using Adobe Flash that summerises the Key Points of Copyright in Australia.

Example pic