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The Copyright Act

Copyright is a right belonging to the owner or licensee of a a literary, artistic or dramatic work, film or sound recording, to reproduce, perform or otherwise deal with the work.

The law of copyright in Australia is contained in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). This law is complex and people with copyright problems should seek legal advice. Despite this complexity there are a number of basic rules that provide a general understanding of the operation of the Act.

  • No registration is required

Australian law does not require registration of copyright. A work is automatically covered when it is created. In this sense it is very different to other forms of intellectual property like patents.

  • Copyright protects the expression of ideas not the ideas themselves

Copyright does not protect ideas or information. It protects the work of creators and the investment of producers in things such as novels, films, paintings and so forth. It is the work (the form of expression used by the creator) that is protected and not the underlying ideas or information.

  • Copyright is a form of property

Copyright refers to certain exclusive rights held by the owner of the copyright. These include the rights to reproduce, publish or communicate (including over the internet) a work. Copyright is property and can be bought and sold independently of the physical item. For example, a painter who sells a painting may retain ownership of copyright even though he or she no longer owns the canvas.

Breach of copyright

A person who makes an unauthorised use of copyright material infringes the copyright owner's rights and can be sued for monetary compensation (damages). However, certain uses are permitted without obtaining the owner's permission. See Acts that do not infringe copyright.

Recent changes to the Copyright Act

There have been a number of changes to the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) over the years. These include:

  • provisions that bring the ownership of copyright in commissioned photographs in line with other artistic works (excepting photographs commissioned for a private or domestic purpose);
  • changes to the ownership of copyright in work created by employed journalists;
  • changes that allow the importation of goods with non-infringing labels, packaging and written instructions affixed;
  • introduction of procedures that streamline the collection of payments for government use of copyright protected material;
  • removal of copyright owners' right to control the parallel importation of sound recordings, computer programs, electronic literary or musical items;
  • the introduction of defences that allow certain uses of computer programs for the production of interoperable products, error correction, and security testing;
  • introduction of a new right of communication to the public;
  • new rights of action in relation to circumvention devices and services;
  • the introduction of moral rights.

Reforms relating to the US Free Trade Agreement included:

  • an extension of 20 years for the copyright term of most categories of material;
  • duration of copyright in photographs changed so that it is the same as other artistic works;
  • new economic and moral rights for performers;
  • limitation of remedies available against carriage service providers in certain circumstances;
  • additional criminal provisions relating to significant infringement of copyright on a commercial scale, and when undertaken for commercial advantage or profit;
  • increased protection for electronic rights management information;
  • expansion of the reproduction right to cover reproductions in any form, both permanent and temporary.

See US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act 2004 (Cth) sch 9.

Further information about copyright can be found at the Australian Copyright Council and the Arts Law Centre.

The Copyright Act  :  Last Revised: Mon Dec 22nd 2014
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.