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What is copyright?

Copyright legislation protects a range of material including literary works (e.g. books, journals, newspapers), dramatic works (e.g. plays), music, artworks (including photographs), and audio-visual material (e.g. sound recordings, film, TV programs).

To be protected by copyright, a work must be ‘original’ and expressed in a material form. To be considered ‘original’, the creator of the work must have exercised some skill, ingenuity, and labour in making the work. Copyright does not protect ideas – it protects the expression of the thought, not the idea itself.

Under 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. Copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years.

Copyright holders have certain exclusive rights in relation to their works:

  • The right to copy the work (e.g. photocopy, print, download, scan)
  • The right to communicate the work to the public (e.g. make it available online)
  • The right to publish
  • The right to perform the work in public
  • The right to make an adaptation

Creators of copyright works have ‘moral rights’, which relate to a creator’s relationship to their work. Moral rights are:

  • The right of attribution – you must attribute the creator when you reproduce their work. The work must not be falsely attributed to someone else.
  • The right of integrity – the creator’s work should not be subjected to derogatory treatment. You should not do something to the work that is prejudicial to the reputation of the creator.