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Copyright: An Introduction to Copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is a system of laws that is designed to protect the works of authors from unauthorised copying and transmission, whilst at the same time allowing the public to have reasonable access to information. Australian copyright law is contained in a piece of federal legislation called The Copyright Act 1968.

Copyright Terminology

Copyright legislation protects a range of material:

  • literary works (books, letters, articles, written assignments, etc);
  • dramatic works (plays, filmscripts, scenarios, treatments and the like);
  • musical works (compositions of popular or classical music); and
  • artistic works (photos, paintings, drawings, maps, charts, diagrams, etc).
  • films and video,
  • sound recordings, and
  • broadcasts.

Copyright does not protect ideas (or styles or techniques) – it protects the expression of the idea in a material form.

Who owns copyright?

In most cases, copyright will be owned by the creator of the work.

Copyright protection applies automatically. Copyright holders do not need to register their work, and copyright material does not need to have the © copyright symbol attached for it to be protected.

What does copyright mean for my work?

A copyright owner has a number of exclusive rights, that is things that only they can do, or authorize someone else to do.

In general, these rights are:

  • to make copies of the work - photocopy, scan, download, email;
  • to publish the work;
  • to perform the work in public;
  • to make adaptations of the work - e.g. make a novel into a screenplay; and
  • to communicate the work to the public - i.e. to put the work online and make it accessible to the public.

How long does copyright last?

Duration of Copyright by Copyright Agency

In general, copyright in text, images and music lasts for 70 years after the year of the creator’s death, even if the creator does not own copyright. The period was extended from 50 to 70 years in 2005, but only for content that was still in copyright on 1 January 2005.

When copyright in a work has expired, it is often referred to as being “in the public domain” or “out of copyright.”

What can happen if copyright is infringed?

When there is an infringement of Copyright, a Copyright owner is entitled to bring a civil action in court against the person or organisation who has infringed Copyright. There are also circumstances, where infringement of Copyright is regarded as a criminal offence, and fines and jail terms may apply.

Copyright Legislation