Copyright in Australia

What is a copyright?

Copyright is one form of intellectual property.

Copyrights protect the original expression of ideas, i.e. the form or way an idea is expressed and not the ideas or the information themselves.  For example, a photographer who takes a photo owns the copyright to the photos but not the objects in the photo.

The primary purpose of copyright protection is to act as an incentive by encouraging the creation of new works, which can in turn benefit the community.

Copyright law in Australia

Copyright subsists when the following elements are satisfied:

  1. the works fall within the definition set out in Copyrights Act 1968 (Cth) being either literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work;
  2. the works must be in a material form, such as, in writing, by way of a painting, etc;
  3. the works must be a new creation (be original - not copied).

So copyright covers such things as writings, images, music, films, etc.

Copyright provides a legal right to the copyright owner to prevent others from doing certain things such as copying and plagiarising the copyright owner's works without the permissions from the copyright owner.

Registration

There is no system of registration for copyright protection in Australia.  The material is protected automatically from the time it is first recorded, written down, painted or drawn, filmed or taped.

Copyright Notice

As copyright is automatic it is not essential (nor compulsory under the Copyrights Act 1968) for a copyright notice to be affixed to a copyright owner's works.  However, to minimise potential infringement it is prudent where possible to inform the public that a particular material is copyrighted.  Copyright notices such as the symbol © or the words "Copyright" or "Copyright reserved" are sometimes used for this purpose.

Duration of copyright

Subject to certain exceptions under the Copyrights Act 1968, copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator, or 70 years from the end of the year the material was first made public.  During this period, a copyright owner's works are protected from infringement.  After this period, the material enters the public domain.

Assignment and Licensing

A copyright owner can assign or license their rights.

Infringement

Copyright can be infringed when a person uses someone else's copyrighted material without permission.  Even use of a portion of a work can potentially infringe copyright.

A copyright owner has the right to sue a person for damages in respect of infringement.


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