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Who owns copyright?

Ownership of copyright is generally held:

  • by the author (creator) – in the case of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works [Copyright Act 1968 (Cth s 35(2)];
  • by the producer (maker) – in the case of a film [ss 98(2), 22(4)] or sound recording [ss 97(2), 22(3)];
  • by the broadcaster for a broadcast [s 99];
  • by the publisher for a published edition [s 100].

There are some important exceptions to the general rule:

  • where a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work is made in the course of the author's employment, (in other words the work is part of an employee's job) the employer owns the copyright [s 35(6)].
  • Where the author is a journalist employed by a newspaper or magazine, the journalist owns the rights for the purposes of inclusion in a book or for photocopying, while the employer owns all other rights [s 35(4)];
  • where photographs taken for a private or domestic purpose, portraits, engravings, sound recordings, and films are commissioned, the person who commissions the work owns the copyright [ss 35(5),97(3),98(3)]. In all other cases of commissioned works however, the author owns copyright;
  • material created under the direction or control of the Government, or first published by the Government, is owned by the Government [ss 176-178];

It is important to note that the general rule and the exceptions can be changed by agreement or assignment [ss 35(3),97(3),98(3),179]. So, for instance, a person who commissions a private or domestic photograph may sign an agreement that the photographer owns the copyright. Copyright ownership may also be assigned in writing. For this reason it is unwise to assume that the owner will be the creator of the work in question or the creator’s employer. Ownership should be checked in each particular case.

Copyright law recognises that works may be made by more than one person. These are works of joint authorship and copyright in such works is often jointly owned. For a work to be jointly owned the contributions of each author must not be distinguishable. If various authors contribute separate parts they are not joint authors, but each own the copyright in their contribution.

For more information, see the information sheet on Ownership of Copyright produced by the Australian Copyright Council.

Who owns copyright?  :  Last Revised: Fri Jan 29th 2016
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