2. Copyright

Most people are familiar with the copyright symbol ©. You may have seen this symbol in the title pages of books, stamped on images, or appearing in the footer of web pages.


Copyright symbol
Copyright symbol by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons.

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property which protects the rights of creators to determine how their original works may be used, including whether they can be copied and shared. In Australia, copyright is embodied in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

The purpose of the copyright system is two-fold:

  • It ensures creators receive some form of payment or credit for their creative work over a certain period of time.
  • The system arguably incentivises creativity by protecting the rights of creators.

Under Australian law, works do not need to be registered to be protected by copyright. It is also important to note that once granted, copyright protection is not permanent. When copyright protection ceases, the work is considered to be in the public domain.

Moral rights

In addition to the economic rights of creators, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) also protects their moral rights. In Australian law, the authors of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works have a right to proper attribution for their work (see 3. Licences and attribution). Creators are also protected from the “derogatory treatment” of their works, treatment which would negatively impact the author’s honour or reputation.

What types of works does copyright protect?

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) protects a wide range of works including:

  • literary works
  • dramatic works
  • musical works
  • artistic works
  • sound recordings
  • cinematography films
  • television and sound broadcasts
  • published editions of works.

Exemptions to copyright

Certain uses of works will not infringe copyright as they are seen as “fair dealing”. For instance, fair dealing exemptions exist for the purposes of:

  • research or study
  • criticism or review
  • parody or satire
  • news reporting
  • giving of professional advice by a legal practitioner.

Decorative It is important to note that the exemption for research and study is not available to you if you are publishing your work (e.g. uploading your video on YouTube or publishing your assignment as a website). The Copyright Council of Australia has more information on the research and study exemption.

What is considered to be fair?

Courts use a range of factors in determining whether a use constitutes fair dealing or not, including:

  • the purpose of the use
  • the amount of copying involved
  • whether the use negatively affected the creator
  • whether proper attribution was used
  • whether their permission could easily have been sought.

For example, photocopying a few pages of your course textbook is considered to be fair dealing, while photocopying the entire work is not.

Decorative Read Explainer: what is ‘fair dealing’ and when can you copy without permission? Do you think Australia’s fair dealing exemption should be reformed?

This chapter is adapted from 2. Copyright in Find and Use Media by The University of Queensland Library.


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Digital Skills: Assignment Essentials Copyright © 2024 by Charles Sturt University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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