What is copyright?

in About Copyright

Copyright is a law that applies to forms of expression or content such as text, images and music.  It enables people who create and invest in content to manage how others use the content.

In Australia and most other countries, copyright automatically applies as soon as the content is created and ‘fixed’ in some way (e.g. written down, recorded, saved to disk). There is no requirement to register or go through any other process.

What works does copyright apply to?

Copyright applies to the following:

  • text (e.g. in books, journal articles, reports, webpages)
  • images (e.g. photographs, artistic works, graphs)
  • video and moving images (e.g. films, videos, television commercials, vodcasts)
  • audio recordings (e.g. music recordings, radio programs, podcasts)
  • computer programs

Who owns copyright?

As a general rule, the first owner of copyright in a work is the creator, unless the creator has assigned copyright to someone else.  Where the work is the product of collaboration copyright may be jointly owned.  Where works were commissioned or created in the course of employment different rules may apply.

What rights do copyright holders have?

Owners of copyright have exclusive rights to use their content in certain ways: e.g. to reproduce it or make available online. People who want to use other people’s content thus have to get permission (a licence) from the owner of copyright.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for different periods depending on a number of factors including the type of material, when it was created, when the creator died and when it was published.

Copyright periods can also vary from country to country.

In general, copyright in text, images and music lasts for 70 years after the year of the creator’s death, even if the creator does not own copyright. The period was extended from 50 to 70 years in 2005, but only for content that was still in copyright on 1 January 2005.

When copyright in a work has expired, it is often referred to as being in the public domain or out of copyright.

Are all uses treated the same?

In order to achieve its objectives, the copyright system treats different types of uses of content in different ways. Some uses require the permission (licence) of the copyright owner, enabling the copyright owner to set the terms of use. Some uses do not require permission, but do require fair payment under statutory licences. Some uses do not require permission or payment: see here.

For more information about copyright go to:

Copyright Agency’s About Copyright