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Lowther Hall Nora Collisson Centre (Library): Copyright

Copyright 101

Copyright basics

What is copyright?

A simple definition of copyright is that it is a bunch of rights in certain creative works (literary works, artistic works, musical works, computer programs, sound recordings, films and broadcasts) which can be used to stop others from copying the creative works without permission.

The rights are granted exclusively to the copyright owner to reproduce (copy, scan, print) and communicate (email, put on Internet) the material, and for some material, the right to perform or show the work to the public. Copyright owners can prevent others from reproducing or communicating their work without their permission. Only the copyright owner can licence or sell these rights to someone else.



Why is copyright important?

Copyright is important because it allows creators to control how their creative work is used (and who is allowed to use it). It also provides creators with the option to charge a fee for the use of their work, if they wish.


Duration of copyright

Copyright protection starts automatically, as soon as a work is created. Copyright in Australia generally lasts for 70 years after the death of the material's creator, but this can vary for different types of materials.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles or techniques. For example, copyright will not protect an idea for a film or book, but it will protect a script for the film or even a storyboard for the film.

The types of works copyright protects include:

  • Artistic works: paintings, photographs, maps, graphics, cartoons, charts, diagrams and illustrations
  • Literary works: novels, textbooks, poems, song lyrics, newspaper articles, computer software, computer games
  • Musical works: melodies, song music, advertising jingles, film scores
  • Dramatic works: plays, screenplays and choreography
  • Films and moving images: Feature films, short films, documentaries, television programs, interactive games, television advertisements, music videos and vodcasts
  • Sound recordings: MP3 files, CDs, DVDs, vinyl and tape recordings, podcasts
  • Broadcasts: Pay and Free to air television and radio

It is important to note that online text, images, broadcasts, videos and music on websites, wikis, blogs and social networking sites are all protected by copyright.


Using copyright material

If you want to use someone else's work, you can generally only use it if:

1. Your use is permitted under an exception contained in the Australian Copyright Act: There are a list of exceptions called "fair dealing" in the Copyright Act that allow students to copy and use other people's works for the purpose of "research and study", "criticism and review", "satire and parody" and "reporting the news".

2. The copyright owner has said that it can be used for free or has licensed the material under a Creative Commons licence.

3. You ask the copyright owner for permission and they give it. This is called permission or a licence.


Fair Dealing: Students can copy and communicate limited amounts of works under "fair dealing" without seeking the permission of the copyright owner. To rely on fair dealing, the use of the material must be fair and for the purpose of research or study.

Video: Study Help: Understanding Copyright

This short video from the University of South Australia has some great information about how to use copyright material.

(NOTE: Even though it discusses copyright in universities, all of the copyright rules and restrictions mentioned here apply to Australian schools as well)

Useful resources