What is Copyright?

Posted by luke on

Recently the Australian Federal Court awarded the Corby family (Schapelle Corby) more than $50,000 in damages after their personal family photos were released in a book called ‘Sins of the Father.’ The family was awarded the money on the grounds that they owned the copyright to the images used in the book.

The purpose of this blog is to provide a clear explanation of what copyright is and how it works.

So, what is it?

Basically, the term “Copyright” refers to a collection of rights in certain creative works such as text, artistic works and films. These rights refer to the author’s right to perform or show the work to the public, to reproduce the work and to prevent others from reproducing or showing the work to the public.

What can be covered?

There are two categories that materials can be put into. ‘Works’ and ‘Other Subject Matter.’ Each of these categories has different rules regarding things such as the length of copyright, reproduction etc.


Artistic Works

Literary Works

Musical Works

Dramatic Works






text books

song music



newspaper articles

pop songs



magazine articles

advertising jingles




film score






song lyrics






technical manuals



instruction manuals



computer software



computer games





models of buildings



moulds and casts



for sculptures


Other Subject Matter:


Sound Recordings


Published editions

cinematographic films

vinyl music or voice


typesetting (the layout and look of a publication)

video recordings

recorded on vinyl






television programs




audio cassette tapes


music videos

MP3 files


interactive games and


interactive films


(Tables courtesy of http://www.smartcopying.edu.au/)

What are the conditions necessary for something to be ‘Covered?’

There are 3 requirements necessary in order for something to be copyrighted:

  • The work must be reduced to its material form. An idea itself will not receive copyright protection. It is only the material expression of the idea, which can be protected (e.g. the recording of “Eight Days A Week” by the Beatles can be copyrighted, but the concept of a “Love Song” cannot.)
  • The author of the work must be a citizen or resident of either Australia or a country to which Australia has promised copyright protection under international treaties and conventions.
  • The work must be original and as a result of the authors skill and effort. The idea cannot be a near-identical copy of another piece of work and must be created by the author themselves.

How do I get my work Copyrighted? (and how long does it last for?)

In Australia, there is no formal registration process necessary for Copyright. The piece becomes instantly Copyright-protected once it is put into material form (e.g. once a book has been written, it is copyrighted.)

Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author + 70 years. Once the copyright is up, the work can be reproduced by anyone.

Can the owner of the work pass on ownership of the copyright?

Yes they can. The ownership can be legally assigned to another person or corporate entity with permission of the original owner.

What are Moral Rights?

Moral Rights are personal rights granted to authors of:

- literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and

- films

Moral rights are:

- The right of attribution of authorship. The author has the right to be clearly and openly accredited as the author of the work when it is shown to the public.

- The rights against false attribution of authorship. The author has the right not to have their work falsely attributed to someone else and not to have an altered piece of work being presented as unaltered.

- The right of integrity of authorship. The author has the right to have their work defamed and disrespected. The author’s reputation cannot be painted negatively through the negative portrayal of their work.

Performers Rights

Performers’ rights apply to the recording, filming and broadcasting of live performances that are unauthorised. These performances include:

- Dance

- Dramatic, literary and musical works

- Circus or other variety acts

- Improvisations – such as improvised speeches and dance

What happens when Copyright is infringed upon?

There are numerous factors, which can influence the ramifications of copyright infringements. In civil infringements, the copyright owner can charge the copyright infringer on the grounds of:

  • Damages (monetary compensation for loss)
  • Additional damages (where the infringement has been flagrant)
  • An account of profits (compensation based on profit)
  • An injunction (a court order which prevents the infringer from further infringing)

It is also possible for copyright infringements to be criminal offences in cases of commercial dealings. For example, a person caught distributing copyrighted material with the intention of gaining commercial advantages or profit can be fined up to $93, 500 and/or imprisoned for up to five years. Corporations may be fined up to five times this amount.

What are the exceptions to Copyright?

Exceptions to copyright must be considered ‘Fair Dealing.’ They must fall under the following categories.

  • Research or Study
  • Review or Criticism
  • News reporting
  • Judicial proceedings or professional legal advice
  • Parody or satire

In order for exceptions to be allowed, they must fall under one of the above categories and also be “fair.” What is fair will depend on all the circumstances including the nature of the work, the nature of the use and the effect of the use on any commercial market.



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