Articles > Intellectual Property

What Is Copyright?

June 17, 2021   Philip Evangelou

Copyright is a type of intellectual property, more specifically it is a bundle of legal rights that gives the owner exclusive ownership over original creative works. The owner is granted the exclusive right to do anything with the copyright material. Of note, the material is typically used for some sort of economic benefit.The Copyright Act 1968 holds the rules surrounding copyright protection. If the material meets the copyright act, it is protected by the stack of rights, meaning registration for copyright protection is needless.

What protection does copyright grant?

It is crucial to understand that not everything is protected by copyright. There are predominantly three rules in what copyright protects. 

The first is that you cannot just protect an idea on it’s own. There are a lot more details needed in order for an idea to be copyright protected. For example, if an individual sprites up a new business idea and claims that they have it copyright protected, they are extremely wrong. Anyone would legally be allowed to use the idea that the individual spoke about. The key rule revolving around the idea is they must be expressed in material form. More specifically, it must be expressed through writing, visually, filmed, recorded or stored in a physical form.

Originality is the key word with the second rule. This by no way means that the material must be innovative or an artistic creation. A simple example is using a software code, which is not artistic, but there are copyright in software codes that are certainly original. Thus, original means that it must be your own work and it cannot come from anyone else’s creation.

The third and final rule is that copyright only protects certain types of work or matters as clarified in the copyrights act. Examples of certain types of work include literary, dramatic, music, artistic, films, sound recordings, broadcasts and published auditions. It is understood that if a creation does not fall into one of the examples listed, then it cannot be copyright protected.

Who holds ownership of the copyright?

The principle revolving around copyright is that the original creator owns the copyright. It is important to get legal assistance if you are unsure about who owns the copyright. This is because a lot of the time the creator is not always obvious. An author of a book is a simple example of knowing who the copyright owner is, because the name is on the front cover. A more complex example is in a song, whereby the composer may have written the notes, but the record label produced the song. In simpler terms, each person in this song owns the copyright and has their own share. This can also be readily identified in films, with an abundance of different individuals owning copyright from the one film. The owner of the copyright is not always obvious, but there are ways to make it obvious and that is by transferring it.

The owner of copyright is allowed to transfer between multiple people. This occurs when the owner is not obvious, in order to change this then you can get everyone to sign a contract. For example, if you’re working on a project with multiple staff and want to own all the copyright then these are the options. Firstly, including an IP assignment clause which you can include in all employees contracts prior commencement that assigns all of their IP rights in their work to you. The second option is signing an IP assignment deed, which is a legal document that assigns all employees IP rights in their work to you after completion. Both options are specifically important for companies such as technological ones that have highly valuable IP. It is equally important to have contracts with everyone who is involved in working with valuable intellectual property.

How does someone license their copyright?

If an individual wants someone else to own and use their copyright material without full ownership of it, they can license the intellectual property to them. A contract must be implemented whereby a license of certain rights provides the ability to use the copyright materials in a variety of ways. The contract can specify the time, place, duration and cost of the license. 

What rights does copyright grant?

As previously mentioned, copyright owners possess several rights over the copyright material. For example, owners have allowance to:

  • Reproduce or copy the material
  • Communicate the copyright material publicly
  • Publish the material
  • Perform the material
  • Implement adaptations to the copyright material

How long does copyright last?

Copyright does not last forever and when it concludes, then the material is freely accessible to anyone. The duration of copyright for the different types of copyright materials include:

  • 70 years after the owner’s death for dramatic, musical and artistic works
  • 70 years after the first publication for sounds recordings or films
  • 50 years after the first broadcast for television and sound broadcasts
  • 25 years after the first publication for published editions of work

What is the copyright symbol’s purpose?

Copyright protection exists automatically meaning the copyright symbol is not necessarily needed. The fundamental reason for the symbol is because owners like to showcase it to others to put the copyright material on notice. It is essentially to warn people that the material is protected and they are infringing on copyrighted material.

How is copyright protection acquired?

Copyright is something that must individually be kept track of, since it automatically comes. Legal advice is necessary to understand whether material you have created is copyright protected and you have full ownership. It is important to have contracts installed with employees to give a clear understanding. If there are creative works you have noticed wherever it is, you can take action and assert your rights. 

Key takeaways

Copyright allows the owner the exclusive right to perform the copyright material in various ways and ensure others do not use it. Seeking legal assistance is fundamental to understanding whether you own the IP in your company and whether it is acceptable to get copyright protection. Implementing contracts with employees or collaborators is key to understanding who owns the copyright. You can also transfer or licence the copyright to others, but seek legal advice before.

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.