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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

In the language of copyright, the things that a person creates, such as essays, photographs, cartoons, stories, novels, term papers, paintings, maps, plays and musical scores are called "works". So there are:

  • 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).

As well as works, there are:

  • films and video,
  • sound recordings, and
  • broadcasts.

Who owns copyright?

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

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 (Copyright material made before 1 January 2019 other than Government copyright material).

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