What are some copyright myths?

in About Copyright

There’s quite a bit of misunderstanding about copyright and how it works. Test your knowledge against these common myths and misconceptions.

If there’s no copyright notice, it’s not covered by copyright

Copyright automatically applies to written and artistic works from the moment they’re created. You don’t have to ‘do’ anything to obtain copyright. The copyright notice (©+ name of copyright owner + year) is an internationally recognised signifier that a work is protected by copyright.

If it’s unpublished, copyright doesn’t apply

Copyright applies to published and unpublished content. As soon as a work is ‘fixed’ in some way (e.g. on paper, or saved to disk), it’s covered by copyright.

If it’s on the internet, anyone can use it

Copyright is not ‘waived’ when you publish text or images on the internet. You can decide how you would like people to use your online content. Guidelines for using online text and images usually appear on a website’s ‘terms of use’ page.

I don’t need permission if I copy less than 10%

Using even a very small part of someone else’s work can require permission if that part is an important or integral part and was the result of skill and time. There are some provisions in Australia’s copyright law that allows the use of 10% without permission in special circumstances. For example, students can use 10% of a work for their research or study, and educational institutions can use 10% of a work under the ‘statutory licence’ for education.

I don’t need permission to use a work if I make changes to it

Making changes doesn’t take away the need to get permission. If you use an important part of someone else’s work you might need permission, even if you make changes to it. You also need to be careful that you do not make changes to someone else’s work that they may regard as derogatory.

I can use other people’s content provided I credit them

You have a legal obligation to credit the creator when you use their work, unless they have agreed not to be credited, or it is not ‘reasonable’ to credit them. Using a work for the purposes of criticism, review or reporting news is conditional on crediting the author and title of the work. However, including a credit doesn’t preclude obtaining permission in all circumstances.

I can use other people’s content without permission provided I don’t make money out of it.

You usually need permission even if your use is non-commercial. The content creator may set different terms for non-commercial use (e.g. a different fee) but you still need to ask.

If I pay someone to create something for me, I own the copyright

If the content creator is on staff, and the work is created during their employment as part of their job, usually the employer owns the copyright. If, on the other hand, the content creator is an independent contractor, then they will usually retain copyright unless there is something in writing transferring copyright to you. If you have not made an agreement about how you may use the material, you would usually be entitled to use it for the purposes it was commissioned for, but may not be entitled to use it for other purposes.

Getting permission is difficult.

It needn’t be. It is a good idea to think about what will be easy to clear for use before you select the content. Depending on your need, Copyright Agency | Viscopy may be able to assist you with a clearance.

For more information about copyright go to:

Copyright Agency’s Copyright Basics