Articles > Intellectual Property

Basic Facts about Australian Copyright Law ©

February 18, 2022   Anthea Dinh-TramPhilip Evangelou

As a form of intellectual property, copyright is a bundle of rights that allows owners to manage the way others use their work. Artists rely upon copyright law to protect and monetise their creativity. In Australia, copyright is an automatic right so it does not need to be registered. The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) regulates copyright in relation to original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, and other subject matter. Under section 31, copyright owners have rights to:

  • Reproduce the original work;
  • Publish the work; 
  • Perform the work in public;
  • Communicate the work to the public; and
  • Adapt the work. 

This article outlines basic facts about Australian Copyright Law for businesses to understand their rights and, thus, avoid missing opportunities to claim. 

Do I Own Copyright?

The general rule is that the copyright owner is the creator of the work. However, exceptions apply where the work was created in the context of employment so the employer is the owner. For commissioned items, the commissioner is the copyright owner. The government owns copyright for works made under the direction of an Australian federal or state government agency. 

Breaking Down the Copyright Act

What types of work does the Copyright Act cover?

To have have protection under copyright law, content must be:

  • an expression (not an idea);
  • in material form;
  • original; and
  • made by a human.

Again, copyright law protects literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, and other subject matter. Literary works may include books, poems, or magazine articles. Dramatic works are works of theatre such as plays and choreography. Musical works include songs and artistic content could be paintings, drawings, crafts, sculptures etc. Other subject matter refers to films, sound recordings, broadcasts, published editions etc.

It should be noted that copyright in each type of work has independent existence. That means that for a compact disc, copyright protects the lyrics separately from the composition and arrangement of music. The sound recording would also have its own copyright protection. 

What type of work doesn’t the Copyright Act cover? 

Material that does not fall into any of the above categories is unlikely to have copyright, especially if it was not original content. While a work does not need to reach a certain level of literary or artistic merit to obtain copyright, single words, slogans, and titles will generally not be protected. These are protected as trademarks, in another area of intellectual property law. 

Assignment of Copyright

Copyright owners may transfer their ownership as with other forms of property. They may also license the copyright to another. For example, an author may assign copyright on their novel to a publisher. Rights to a photograph may be assigned under a Creative Commons licence. 

If a copyright owner passes away, their copyright could be bequeathed by will. If no provisions are made in a will, the copyright will form part of the estate. 

Copyright Infringement

When another person plagiarises or exploits a work commercially without the knowledge or permission of its owner, a copyright infringement occurs. The remedies for an infringement include an injunction from the Court that will restrain the other from reproducing the original work. The Court could further order the owner to seize the reproduced work from the offender’s premises. Other options are an account for profits and award of damages. 


Copyright protection exists immediately from when the original work is created. Copyright in artistic works lasts 70 years from the date of first publication. It is 50 years for radio and television broadcasts and 25 years for published editions. Sound recordings and films are protected for 70 years from when they were created or published. After a copyright protection expires, the creative work will be in the public domain which means it will no longer receive the benefits of copyright protection. The public may reproduce, publish, perform, communicate, or adapt the work without gaining permission from the original owner. Here, it is not necessary to credit the original creator. 

Exceptions to Copyright 

Division 3 of the Copyright Act lists a number of exceptions to copyright, whereby one can use copyright protected material without gaining the consent of its owner. 

The most common group of copyright exceptions is known as ‘fair dealing’. Fair dealing provides that there will be no infringement of copyright for works reproduced for the purposes of:

  • Research and study; 
  • Criticism or review;
  • Parody or satire;
  • Reporting news;
  • Judicial proceedings or professional advice. 

Other exceptions to copyright protection mentioned in the Copyright Act include: 

  • Copying work for personal use – certain types of material may be copied into a different format. For example, a png image may be converted into a jpg image. Entertainment such as television shows may be recorded for later viewing;
  • Incidental photographing or filming of artworks in public areas;
  • Drawing or painting art and sculptures in public areas;
  • Reproducing materials temporarily for technical processes; and 
  • Publicly reciting a section of literary work. 

Moral Rights

Moral rights are an additional and separate set of rights under Australian copyright law. They last for the duration of the copyright protection of the work and cannot be transferred or waived. They provide creators and performers rights to:

  • Be acknowledged and credited for their work;
  • Not have their work attributed to another person; and
  • Not have their work treated in a derogatory manner.

Creators can consent to acts that would, otherwise, constitute an infringement of their moral rights if they wish. 


Copyright allows owners to manage the way others reproduce, publish, perform, communicate, or adapt their work. The Copyright Act shows that copyright protections are automatically given to works of literature, drama, music, art, or other as soon as they are created, and generally last a lifetime. Copyright can also be transferred and assigned by the owner. Any infringements to these ownership rights may be remedied at court but exceptions exist for material reproduced for reasons such as research, news reporting, and judicial proceedings. 

For additional information on copyright law regarding company logos, read our article. Feel free to contact our expert team by filling in the form below or phoning OpenLegal at 1300 337 997 if you have any doubts or queries about copyright law.

About Anthea Dinh-Tram

Anthea Dinh-TramAnthea works as a legal intern with OpenLegal, whilst studying a Bachelor of Communication (Public Communication)/Laws at UTS Sydney.

About Philip Evangelou

phillipPhil is a director at OpenLegal. He has over 16 years experience working in private practice and in-house counsel in Sydney and London, giving him expertise in employment law, IP, finance, leases, dispute resolution, insurance and contracts.