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What is Copyright?

Copyright gives authors, creatives and artists intellectual property rights over materials they have created.

In Australia Copyright is applied automatically once a work has been created e.g. put into material form, written down or recorded in some way.

The Copyright Act 1968 governs how copyright material can be used and the rights of the creators. This includes allowing others to:

  • Reproduce the material
  • Publish the material
  • Perform the material
  • Communicate the material to the public
  • Make adaptations of the material

Ideas, concepts, styles, facts, people, techniques and material produced by a non-human author are NOT protected by copyright, but could be protected by another form of law e.g. Trademarks.

The Copyright Act breaks material down into two sub-groups and depending on which group the material is classified as will determine the scope and length of protection given by the Copyright Act. 


Works are divided into 4 categories:

  1. Literary - Books, journals, websites
  2. Artistic - Paintings, blueprints, models, photos
  3. Dramatic - Screenplays, Scripts, theatrical productions
  4. Music - Musical scores


Works are divided into 4 categories:

  1. Cinematograph Film - Films, Television series, YouTube/Vimeo clips
  2. Sound Recording - Recorded music, audio books
  3. Broadcasts - anything broadcast on traditional broadcasting technology on television or radio
  4. Published Editions - Anything in published traditional books, journals, CDs, DVDs

Who owns Copyright?

In most cases with WORKS, the owner of the copyright is the creator of the material, but there are exceptions to this rule:

  • The employer owns the copyright for any work created by an employee during the course of their employment
  • Creators are entitled to sell/rent (license) or give away some or all of their rights to a person of company e.g. an author might license their book to a production company.
  • Contracted or commissioned agreements e.g. a commissioned painting or sculpture.
  • If there is more than one creator, the copyright is owned jointly by ALL the creators. 

Things are a little more complex with SUBJECT MATTER OTHER THAN WORKS as there is usually more than one creator, but the general rule is that the copyright owner is the maker of the subject matter. 

This means for example:

  • The copyright owner of a sound recording is the person who owns the material on which the first recording is made i.e. the record company.
  • For motion pictures, the copyright owner is the person who organised for the film to be made i.e. the producer.
  • For broadcasts, the copyright owner is the person who made the broadcast i.e. the broadcaster.

How long does Copyright last?

The length of time material is protected by copyright can vary depending on a number of factors. 

The general rule for copyright is the life of the creator plus 70 years.

This does not apply to:

  • Sound recording
  • Cinematographic films
  • Broadcasts 
  • Published editions
  • Government Works

For more in depth information on copyright duration look at the information sheet produced by the Australian Copyright Council, which can be found below.

Reference List

This guide was made with the assistance of:

APRA AMCOS. (2019). APRA AMCOS. Retrieved from
Australian Copyright Council. (2019). Australian Copyright Council. Retrieved from
Macquarie University. (n.d.). Copyright for teaching. Retrieved from
National Copyright Unit. (n.d.). Smartcopying. Retrieved from
Tasmanian Institute of Learning & Teaching. (2018). Teaching and Copyright. Retrieved from
University of Adelaide. (2019). Copyright Overview. Retrieved from