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7 things you need to know about Copyright Law in Australia.

Updated: Feb 25, 2021

Photo courtesy: Beyata Ratuszniak collected from Unsplash

Copyright is a very important and relevant legal concept that we need to understand and comply with while dealing with literary and creative works. However, most of us do not have a sound understanding of our rights and obligations attached to copyright. We need to know our rights relating to copyright to protect it and the obligations to avoid causing potential infringement by our actions. Following are the 7 things you need to know to have a better understanding of Copyright Law in Australia:

1. What is Copyright?

Copyright is a bunch of rights that you can have in certain creative works such as written texts like books, articles, artistic works like painting, designs, music, computer programs, sound recordings and films. The creator or the owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to reproduce the material and for some material, the right to perform or show the creative work to the public. As a copyright owner, you can prevent others from reproducing or communicating your work without your permission. You can also choose to assign, sell or transfer your copyright to others.

Copyright is an intellectual property right that is separate from the property right in an object. For example, you may own a book or a music album or a painting when you buy those. However, you will not own the copyright in the book or the music or the painting unless you have the specific copyright of those creative works assigned to you.

In Australia, copyright protection is free and automatic. You do not need to register your work for copyright protection. As soon as you put your work into a material form either by writing it down or by recording it in some way, your work will be protected by the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968.

2. What kind of works are protected by Copyright Law?

Copyright gives you the exclusive right to control the use of your creative work. The creative work, protected by copyright, includes the following:

  • Literary works like books, novels, articles, web contents;

  • Creative works like paintings, drawings, designs, illustrations, engraving, blueprints, maps;

  • Photographs, graphic designs (including digital files and audio recordings), logos;

  • Musical scores, songs, radio and TV broadcasts, movies, documentaries;

Photo courtesy: Delaram Bayat collected from Unsplash

3. How long can my work be protected by Copyright Law in Australia?

Since 1 January 2019, literary, dramatic or musical works are protected for 70 years after the author’s death under the copyright law in Australia.

  • Where the author is unknown, the works will be protected for 70 years after making or 70 years after the work is first made public (if within 50 years of making).

  • In the case of sound and film recording, the materials will be protected by copyright for 70 years after making or 70 years after it is first made public (if within 50 years of making).

  • If the copyright-protected material is produced by the Crown (Commonwealth, State or Territory), the copyright protection will be available for 50 years since the making.

4. What is not protected by Copyright Law?

  • Copyright law does not protect ideas, concepts, styles or techniques. For example, copyright will not protect an idea for a book or a film, but it will protect the manuscript for the book or a script or even a storyboard for the film. Therefore, if you have a creative idea, you will not be able to claim protection under copyright laws, unless you put it in a written or another recorded form.

  • Copyright does not protect names, titles or slogans.

  • The “look” or “feel” of a published work, such as a newsletter or advertising material, is not likely to be protected by copyright.

5. If I commission a work, who owns the copyright?

The copyright protection is available to the creator of the original work unless he/she agrees to transfer such a right to someone else. If you commission works from someone else, usually the author will have the copyright of the work. You will be able to use the commissioned work for the specified purpose. However, the copyright will stay with the creator, unless you have an express agreement to the contrary.

For example, if your company commissions a design from a graphic designer, that designer may own the copyright in your newsletter or website designs. In such cases, if you intend to own the copyright of such commissioned work, you will need to have a specific agreement with the graphic designer to transfer the copyright of the work to you. Otherwise, it will restrict your ability to use and reproduce those graphic designs. If you have any doubts about who owns the copyright of the materials used by your business, always consult a copyright lawyer.

6. How can I use copyright-protected material legally?

It is the exclusive right of the copyright owner to reproduce, display the work in public or make an adaptation of the original work. However, you may use the material, that is protected by copyright law, with the permission of the copyright owner.

The Copyright Act 1968 states that copyright can be dealt with in the same way as personal property. It can be sold, assigned, licensed, bequeathed by Will, or passed on according to intestacy or bankruptcy laws. Therefore, you can use copyright-protected material by becoming an assignee or licensee to such copyright. If you obtain a copyright license from the copyright owner, you will have permission to use the copyright in specified ways.

You may also have the copyright if the copyright owner gives it to you entirely by way of sale, inheritance or gift.

There are some situations where copyright law allows people to use copyright material without permission for their personal use. However, the scope for such uses is quite narrow and specific.

7. What can I do if someone infringes my copyright?

Copyright infringement occurs whenever another person makes copies of your work or exploits a work commercially without your permission. It has to be a “substantially similar” reproduction for infringement to occur. It means that the subsequent work must be copied from the first work literally. If someone independently creates a very similar work as your original work, that does not constitute copyright infringement.

If you can prove copyright infringement, there are various ways to get redress.

  • You can seek an injunction from the Court restraining the person or the company from reproducing your original work.

  • You can seek an order from the Court to enter the person’s premises and seize the offending material.

  • Alternatively, you could file a claim for damages, an account of profits or delivery up of the infringing article/s.

Various courts have jurisdiction to hear copyright actions.

If you want more information about copyright laws in Australia, please visit, It is very important to get the right legal advice when it comes to copyright laws. In Law Circuit, we find the best legal service for you to cater to your specific legal needs.

If you need legal advice or assistance regarding your rights and liabilities under copyright law or need help to find the best copyright lawyer please contact us on or call us on 0418631798 or email us at

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