Copyright FAQs

1. What is copyright?

Copyright is a category of intellectual property that is best described as intangible property created by human intellect. Copyright specifically protects original works of authorship like artistic, dramatic, musical, and literary works. Examples are movies, poetry, music, novels, sculptures, paintings, architectural works, computer programs, advertisements, maps, technical drawings, and sound recordings. 

In Australia, copyright law is governed by the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). 

Copyright law grants a bundle of exclusive rights to the copyright owners to reproduce the work, to perform the work, to display the work to the public etc. Copyright holders can restrict others from communicating or copying their work without their authorisation or may assign or license these rights to someone else.

Not everything is capable of copyright protection – copyright does not protect ideas, facts, methods of operation, procedures, and mathematical concepts, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. 

2. Is copyright registration necessary?

In Australia, there is no legal requirement for registration. Copyright protection is automatic provided it satisfies all the necessary requirements of copyright, and as soon as it is placed into a fixed form, for example it is written or recorded in some way (film or audio recording). 

3. What are the rights of the copyright owners?

Copyright law provides two classes of rights.

Economic rights allow the rights holder to receive the monetary reward from the usage of their work by other people. The economic right of the rights owners authorises them to restrict others from specific uses of their work or, in some cases, to obtain compensation for the use of their work. The right holder of copyrighted work can prevent or permit:

  • its duplication in different forms, such as sound recording or printed publication;
  • its public performance, for instance in a musical concert or in a play;
  • its recording, such as, in the form of DVDs or CDs ;
  • its live streaming or broadcasting, by cable, satellite or internet;
  • its adaptation, such as the adaptation of a novel into a film; and
  • its translation into different languages

Moral rights protect the non-economic concerns of the author, such as the right to claim authorship of a work and the right to deny modifications to a work that could injure the creator’s esteem.

4. Who owns a copyright? 

Generally, the person who created or authored the work is the owner of the copyright. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. In some countries, for instance, the economic rights to a copyrighted work firstly remain with the person or organisation who employed the creator. In other countries, economic rights are considered to be legally transferred or assigned to the employer.

Authors can also come to an agreement with another about who will own the works they produce. They can assign the ownership of the works and the copyright in the works to a third party, usually for a fee. 

5. Does copyright law provide international protection?

Copyright laws are territorial; there is no overarching law which governs international copyright or provides automatic protection across the world. There are some international rules in place which seek to make copyright law uniform amongst different countries and provide some limited form of international protection, like the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention. Australia is a party to these conventions, and therefore a copyrightable work created in Australia will automatically be protected in all the other  signatory countries to the Berne Convention Protection. 

6. Can I copyright my mobile app or software?

Software and other types of computer programs are deemed as ‘literary works’ in copyright law. Hence when new code or software is created, it receives automatic protection without the need for registration, just like a painting or a book.

7. Can I freely use somebody else’s work published on the internet without getting their authorisation and how much of someone else’s work can I use?

No, online content carries equal value and protection of traditional works. Any copyright works – from multimedia products to musical compositions, audiovisual productions to newspaper articles – are protected irrespective of whether they are published offline or online. A general misconception is that works disseminated on the internet and social media sites are in the public domain and free to use, to be shared and utilised by anyone without the permission of the rights owner. 

Generally, every time a person wants to use a copyright work, they should seek the permission of the rights owner before use. Copying and pasting and using freely any published work on the internet without prior authorisation from the owner may amount to copyright infringement.

According to the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright law, it is allowable to use small pieces of work for considerations such as criticism, commentary, scholarly writing, and news reporting. There are no legal rules permitting the use of a particular number of words, a set amount of musical notations, or a portion of a work. Whether an individual’s use is deemed as fair use depends on the situation. 

In Australia, copyright exceptions equivalent to fair use are known as fair dealing, which functions differently to fair use.

8. What is the duration of copyright protection in Australia?

In Australia, copyright in published works mostly lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years after the creator’s death.

The duration of copyright in the subject matter other than works (films and sound recordings) varies, and usually is 70 years from the end of the year of first publication. There are differences in these prevailing rules. Before 1 January 2005, the duration of copyright in Australia was the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years for published works, and for audiovisual items 50 years after publication. The extended period of 70 years is applicable only to works created after January 1 2005. 

9. When is copyright infringed?

When exclusive rights of the copyright owner or copyrighted material are used without the authorisation of the owner, copyright is infringed.

10. What are the penalties for copyright infringement?

The Copyright Act provides strict penalties for infringing copyrighted works that infringe the rights of lyricists, artists, composers, producers, and record companies.

Penalties vary from damages, injunctions, and fines up to $60,500 for individuals and up to $302,500 for businesses according to the severity of infringement and imprisonment for a period of maximum five years. The police can also seize infringing work and appliances used in the commission of the crime like computers, software and printers and can issue an on-the-spot fine of $1,320.

While Biztech Lawyers has used reasonable care and skill in compiling the content of this article. we make no warranty as to its accuracy or completeness. This article is only intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and not intended to be specific to the reader’s circumstances. This article is not intended to be comprehensive, and it does not constitute and must not be relied on as legal advice and does not create a client-solicitor relationship between any user or reader and Biztech Lawyers. We accept no responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in the article. You should undertake your own research and to seek professional advice before making any decisions or relying on the information provided.

Ant Bekker Founder | MD

Ant launched his corporate legal career spending a decade covering ecommerce, technology, finance and litigation at Mallesons Stephen Jaques, followed by in-house stints at global behemoth BT and for the UK competition and consumer regulator (the OFT). An MBA at INSEAD led to a change in direction spending time at a top global strategy consulting business (Booz & Co), and projects in the Netherlands, Singapore and the US.

Ant then got his feet wet in startups, joining marketing technology business Rokt as inaugural General Counsel and Head of Operations, building both divisions from the ground up. A few funding rounds and 10x growth later, this quickly turned into a global scale-up valued at US$250m+ and 175 staff.

Ant founded Biztech Lawyers in 2018.   Biztech Lawyers is a tech-centric law firm.  We serve tech clients and use an array of legal technology to make legal processes more efficient, allowing clients to grow as painlessly as possible.  Our role is to act as a decision-making partner, rather than a legal-blocker.

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