Copyright Overview

Copyright is a form of intellectual property. It grants exclusive rights to the copyright owner to protect their work for a limited period. These rights are balanced somewhat by a range of exceptions that permit use in certain circumstances.

It is regulated in Australia under the Copyright Act 1968 as well as various international treaties.  

How Copyright Works by John Gibbs, YouTube

  • When copyright is created

  • Copyright ownership

  • Types of protected material

    For an item to be protected by copyright it needs to fall into at least one of eight defined material types defined in the Copyright Act. These are split into two categories: “works” and “subject matter other than works”.


    Literary Artistic Musical Dramatic
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    Books Paintings Melodies Plays
    Journal articles Drawing Music notation Screenplays
    Poems Sculptures Film scores Mime
    Exam papers Photographs Composition files Choreography
    Computer code Diagrams    

    Other than works

    Films Sound recordings Broadcasts Published editions
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    Motion pictures Music recordings Radio broadcasts Typesetting
    TV programs Podcasts TV broadcasts Layout
    Interactive games Interviews Podcasts of above  
    Animations Sound effects    

    It's possible for more than one type of copyright to exist in an item. For example, a vinyl record is typically protected with multiple layers of copyright, consisting of the:

    Smaller version of the icon of a vinyl record
    Sound recording for the audio track
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    Musical work for the underlying musical composition
    Smaller version of an open book
    Literary work for the song lyrics
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    Artistic work for the cover art
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    Published edition for the cover layout

    It's useful to be able to identify the different copyright components in an item as each may have distinct associated rights, durations, and ownership.

  • Protected rights

    Economic rights

    Copyright doesn’t just apply to copying; there is a bundle of distinct, exclusive rights for each material type. If another party exercises any of these rights they may be infringing the copyright unless they have a suitable licence or permission, or they can establish a fair dealing or other exception as a defence.

    The key rights to consider in the educational context are:

    • Copy/Reproduce: to photocopy, download, scan, record etc.
    • Communicate: to make available online or send electronically.
    • Perform: to cause it to be seen or heard in public.


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    Right Literary Artistic Musical Dramatic
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    Other than works

    Films - SMALL ICON
    Smaller version of the icon of a vinyl record
    Broadcasts - SMALL ICON
    Smaller version of the icon of a page layout
    Right Films Sound recordings Broadcasts Published editions
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    Each of these rights can be licensed separately, so an author might license the publication, reproduction, and communication rights in a new novel to a publisher, but retain the adaptation rights in order to make a film version or translation.

    Moral rights

    Moral rights are the personal rights of individual authors to ensure their ongoing connection to the works that they create. As such, they cannot be assigned or licensed.

    The legislated moral rights in the Copyright Act include the:

    • Right of attribution: to be acknowledged as the author.
    • Right against false attribution: crediting someone who was not the author of the work, or crediting the author for an unauthorised version of their work.
    • Right of integrity: derogatory treatment, mutilation or alteration of their work.

    While moral rights generally expire along with the copyright, it is common practice to observe moral rights even when an item is in the public domain.

    Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP)

    ICIP protocols are a set of guidelines on the use of Indigenous cultural material, with a particular emphasis on early and ongoing consultation with and consent from the relevant communities.

    Further to copyright, ICIP protocols may cover a range of items that are not always protected under other IP frameworks including:

    • Literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works (also protected under copyright).
    • Documentation of Indigenous heritage (also protected under copyright).
    • Tangible cultural property (eg sacred sites, traditional crafts and tools).
    • Intangible cultural property (eg traditional knowledge, languages, oral stories).
    • Ancestral remains and genetic material.

    The rights Indigenous peoples may exercise in relation to these types of materials include:

    • Own and control their ICIP.
    • Ensure that any means of protecting ICIP is based on the principle of self-determination.
    • Be recognised as the primary guardians and interpreters of their cultures.
    • Authorise or refuse to authorise the commercial use of ICIP according to Indigenous customary laws.
    • Maintain the secrecy of Indigenous knowledge and other cultural practices.
    • Guard the cultural integrity of their ICIP.
    • Be given full and proper attribution for sharing their cultural heritage.
    • Control the recording of cultural customs and expressions and the particular language which may be intrinsic to cultural identity, knowledge, skill and teaching of culture.

    Further resources

    Terri Janke and Company; Rights to Culture: Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), Copyright and Protocols
    Australian Council for the Arts; Protocols for using First Nations Cultural and Intellectual Property in the Arts
    University Library; Indigenous Research - The Right Way

  • Copyright duration

  • Licenced material

    The University has licences with several copyright collecting societies and with numerous commercial vendors which permit certain uses of materials and resources by University staff and students for educational and research purposes.

    Collecting societies

    Copyright collecting societies are non-profit organisations that are responsible for licensing a broad range of content and distributing royalties to rightsholders.

    Due to the associated costs and administrative burden to universities, collecting society licences should only be relied upon as a last resort where appropriate materials are not available under some other exception or licence. Material used under the Copyright Agency or Screenrights licences also require adjacent warning notices.

    Literary works such as textbooks and journal articles must only be distributed through course readings to ensure compliance with licensing requirements.

    The general ‘rule-of-thumb’ limits under these licences are summarised below. Specific limits for each material type are detailed on the copyright collecting society licences. 

    Collecting society Materials Permitted purposes General limits
    Copyright Agency Text, images, and notated music Educational

    Reproduce or communicate a ‘reasonable portion’, generally considered as 10% or 1 chapter or article for text. 

    No limit for images.

    Screenrights Free-to-air television and radio broadcasts Educational Reproduce or communicate, no limit. Content can be obtained from podcasts if previously broadcast in Australia.
    APRA-AMCOS, ARIA, PPCA (Music license) Musical works and sound recordings


    University events

    Staff workplaces

    Reproduce, communicate, or perform.

    Limits apply for certain materials and circumstances.

    Commercial licences

    The University Library has licences in place with over 120 vendors to provide resources to staff and students such as journals, datasets, ebooks, news, guides, audio and video recordings, among other resources.

    While there are distinct licence terms for each resource, they typically permit staff and students to access (view), and possibly copy (download) or communicate (share) materials for educational or research purposes. Materials in Course Readings, for example, generally always link to the relevant vendor resource rather than provide PDF copies directly to ensure broad compliance with the relevant vendor licence.

    General terms for a particular vendor can usually be found at the bottom of their webpage under ‘Copyright’ or ‘Terms and Conditions’ after clicking through from Library Search results or from the Library Database list. However, these may differ from the actual licence agreement with the University. In addition, a specific item may have a creative commons or other licence attached to it that may override the broader licence agreement terms.

    Permissions are required for any uses outside of the licence terms.

  • Open Educational Resources, Open Access and Creative Commons

    OERs and OA materials

    Open Educational Resources (OERs) consist of teaching and learning materials that are in the public domain or have been released under a licence that permits some degree of use without purchase or permission. OER materials include textbooks, courseware, software, datasets, images, music and video, among others.

    Open Access (OA) materials are effectively a subset of OER but more commonly refer to peer-reviewed textbooks, journal articles, conference papers and other publications released under a licence to maximise the sharing and distribution of research and information.

    See the OER How Do I guide for information on how to find OERs by discipline and format.

    See the Library Open Access webpage for information on OA.  

    Creative commons

    Creative Commons (CC) are the most widely adopted type of licences for releasing OERs and OA materials, although custom licences are also employed for this purpose.

    There are four key CC components used in different combinations to make up six main CC licenses. Aside from those that include the no derivative (ND) component, they permit users to “distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material” with certain conditions:

    Attribution - CC Icon
    Attribution (BY) Must attribute the author.
    Share-alike - CC icon
    Share-alike (SA) Can modify if released under the same terms.
    Non-commercial - CC Icon
    Non-commercial (NC) Non-commercial use only.
    No derivatives - CC Icon
    No derivatives (ND) Can't modify, adapt or remix.

    For example, a journal article published under a CC-BY-ND licence must be attributed and any excerpts used should only be redistributed without substantial alteration. Uses outside of these terms, such as translating, remixing or adding music to a video montage, will normally require permission. Adaptations are permitted for personal use under the 4.0 licence version, however. 

  • Fair dealing and other exceptions

    There are a range of exceptions in the Copyright Act that can be relied on as a defence in relation to activities that would otherwise infringe copyright. The key exceptions relevant to the education context are outlined below. 

    Note that licence terms may override legislated rights and exceptions for some materials.

    Fair dealing

    Fair dealing exceptions permit the use of a ‘reasonable portion’ of third party material for specific purposes. For literary works this is generally up to:

    • 10% of the words or pages;
    • 1 chapter or article; or
    • 2 or more chapters if from the same periodical publication and its for the same course of study. 

    If using more than a reasonable portion, or using other types of materials such as an artistic work, sound recording, film or broadcast, the following fairness factors must be considered, in aggregate:

    • Purpose of the copying (see below).
    • The nature of the work. 
    • Commercial availability of the work. 
    • The effect of copying on the market for the work. 
    • Amount and substantiality of the part used. 

    Fair dealing defences cannot be relied upon by educational institutions, only individuals.  

    Research or study purpose

    The research or study can be personal or informal but does not extend to making the research results public.  As such, the research or study exception cannot be relied on to include third party material in a publication.  

    Criticism or review purpose

    There must be sufficient commentary or analysis about the third-party material for this exception to apply, rather than it being employed to illustrate a point or for comparison.  

    Other exceptions

    Playing or performing material in class

    This exception permits performing or communicating material in the course of education instruction, so long as it is not conducted for profit. It includes playing sound recordings or films, reading literary works, and performing a play or musical work, however it does not extend to copying the work so the material must be excluded from lecture recordings 

    Assessment materials

    The examination exception permits unlimited copying and communication of any type of material if it is used as part of an exam or assessment question or answer.  It excludes practice tests that are not formally assessed. 

    Disability access

    This exception essentially relies on the fairness factors outlined above for fair dealing.  To meet these criteria any copying and communicating material for disability access purposes should ensure that the required format is not readily available commercially; access to the converted material is restricted; and only the necessary amount is copied.

  • University policies

    University policies

    Key policies and procedures which govern the use of copyright materials within the University include:

    Policy/procedure Copyright aspects

    IP ownership, Indigenous knowledge, moral rights. 

    OERs, fair dealing exceptions, commercial vendor licences, reporting infringement.  

    Plagiarism, attributing sources.   

    Acknowledgement of authors and research contributors; regulatory compliance.  

    Research outputs and rights retention.

    IP ownership and licensing for datasets and software. 

    MyUni, Course Readings, physical course materials, lecture recordings.  

    Reporting process, repeat infringers, disputing take-downs. 

Vinyl icons created by POD Gladiator - Flaticon
Template icons created by pictranoosa - Flaticon
Music note icons created by The Chohans Brand - Flaticon
Dance icons created by Freepik - Flaticon
Antenna icons created by Uniconlabs - Flaticon
Film icons created by Made by Made Premium - Flaticon
Open book icons created by Karyative - Flaticon
Canvas icons created by kosonicon - Flaticon

Contact the Copyright Coordinator