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What is copyright?

Under Australian law and through international agreements, a wide variety of material is protected by copyright including:

  • Literary works (e.g. novels, poems, essays, books, journals, newspapers).
  • Dramatic works (e.g. plays and screenplays etc).
  • Musical works (e.g. sheet-music).
  • Artistic works (e.g. paintings, sculpture, cartoons, photographs, illustrations etc).
  • Audio-visual material (e.g. sound recordings; films – including animations and moving images; radio and television broadcasts).

For a work to receive copyright protection it must be ‘original’ and it must be ‘reduced to material form’. To meet the originality requirement, the creator of the work must have used some skill, ingenuity and labour in making the work. The thought or idea embodied in the work does not need to be novel or new. Copyright protects the expression of the thought, not the idea itself.

In Australian law, material is automatically protected by copyright – copyright owners do not need to register their work and the material does not need to have the copyright symbol © on it to be protected. The duration of copyright protection varies depending on the type of material, its country or origin and when it was made.

Owners of copyright have certain exclusive rights in relation to their works, including:

  • The right to reproduce the work (e.g. photocopy, print, download or scan it).
  • The right to communicate the work to the public (e.g. make it available online or email it).
  • The right to perform the work in public (e.g. performing a work in a live situation).
  • The right to make an adaptation (e.g. translating a literary work).

In addition to these rights, individual creators have ‘Moral Rights’ which relate to a creator’s relationship to their work, including:

  • The right of attribution of authorship – you should attribute a creator when you reproduce a work and it should be reasonably prominent, so that the person receiving a reproduction of the work will have notice of the creator’s identity.
  • The right not to have their work falsely attributed to someone else.
  • The right of integrity of authorship – a creator’s work should not be subjected to derogatory treatment and you should not do something to a creator’s work that is prejudicial to the reputation of the creator.