Copyright Basics

Copyright is an intellectual property right, detailed in the Copyright Act 1968. It is one of a suite of intellectual property rights, others include, patents, trademarks, design or plant breeders rights. You can find out more about these other intellectual property rights at IP Australia.

Copyright, in short, gives the author/creator/artist a suite of rights over the material they wrote/created. It protects the original expression of ideas, so the creative idea must be in a material form. Once in the material form, the creator may choose from a suite of rights what happens to the material.

  • Reproduce the material – photocopy it, scan it, download and save it
  • Publish it – make it available, put on the internet, print in a book, put on a cover of a magazine, install it in a public place
  • Perform it – sing it, put on a public performance, act it out, recite it
  • Communicate the material to public – send it out to public, put on the internet, distribute the book
  • Make adaptations of the material – translate to different languages, turn it into something else, like a book to a TV show

These rights last for a variety of time periods depending upon the material and the actual right. A good rule of thumb; if you can identify the creator assume a ‘creator’s life plus seventy (70) years’ and if you cannot identify the creator assume seventy years. The Copyright Act 1968 can refine it further for you. Once the time period expires, material enters the public domain and can be used by anybody for any purpose.

Importantly, a creator has the right to give away or sell (assign) these rights to another person or company, or could rent (license) some or all of the rights to another person or company. For example an author could sell the movie adaptation right to a film company.

Ownership of the copyright rights can be varied. Traditionally the creator is the first owner of the rights, but if they have created the work in the course of their employment, then the employer will in most cases own the rights. Contractual agreements to create material may include who will own the copyright of the material. For example a research funding agreement may stipulate that the funding organisation owns all copyright rights.

One set of rights a creator cannot renounce or sell, is their moral rights, these rights are designed to protect the creators moral and ethical rights to the material, and to engender respect for the material created. These rights are:

  • The right to be attributed as the creator
  • The right not to be falsely attributed
  • The right of integrity

A wide variety of material is protected by copyright. The legislation breaks it down into sub-groups, and then divides again.

Original works


  • books, e-mails, timetables, databases, journals, magazines, websites, software code, poems, newspapers, data forms, song lyrics


  • choreography, scripts, circus, theatrical production


  • musical scores


  • paintings, engravings, blueprints, models, tapestry, photos, sculptures, digital images, graphic art, memes, maps, plans

Subject matter other than works

Sound recording

  • Recorded music, audio books, audio interviews

Cinematograph film

  • television, online videos, movies, youtube clips, vimeo clips, advertisements

Broadcasts (television and radio)

  • Anything broadcast on traditional broadcasting technology on television or radio

Published edition

  • Anything published in traditional books, journals, magazines, compact discs, DVD’s

Important to note:

Copyright exists purely because there is an Australian Copyright Act that says it does: no Copyright Act, no copyright. Importantly because copyright is country based, always check you are looking at Australian information on copyright (or if you are overseas, the copyright information pertinent to that country).

Copyright is context based. Important because what you want to do with already created material is as important as the material itself.

Copyright is the owners’ responsibility. Important because it is the copyright owners who must manage and protect their copyright material.

Copyright information resources are always biased. Copyright is created by law, so is open to interpretation. Interested parties create resources to support their arguments. Always critically examine any resources found on the internet explaining copyright.

Additional resources

Contact the ACU Copyright Manager who is available to discuss and resolve any copyright concerns:

Telephone: (02) 6209 1237

More generic resources are available at:

Page last updated: 09 Feb 2017

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