Skip to main content

Copyright basics

What is copyright?

Copyright is a type of property that is founded on a person's creative skill and labour. Copyright is not a tangible thing.

Copyright protects the original forms or way an idea or information is expressed, not the idea or information itself. The most common form of copyright are writing, visual images, music and moving images.

Copyright provides an owner of a material with exclusive economic rights to do certain acts with that material. These rights include the right to copy and the right to communicate the material to the public.

Copyright also provides authors and performers with non-economic rights, known as moral rights. Moral rights recognised in Australia are the right of integrity, the right of attribution and the right against false attribution.

What law governs copyright in Australia?

Copyright exists in works and other subject-matter by virtue of the Copyright Act 1968.

The Copyright Regulations 2017 and the Copyright (International Protection) Regulations 1969 specify matters related to the operation of the Copyright Act.

Access to electronic versions of all Commonwealth legislation is available online through the Australian Government's Federal Register of Legislation. Hard copies can also be purchased through the register.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright provides legal protection for people who express original ideas and information in certain forms. The most common forms are writing, visual images, music and moving images.

Copyright does not protect ideas or information, only the original expression of ideas or information. Copyright does not prevent someone else from independently producing the same work.

Copyright does not usually protect names and titles, as these are not considered original enough.

How long does copyright protection last?

Generally copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the author for works, 70 years after being made public for sound recordings and films, and 50 years after being broadcast for television and radio broadcasts.

Copyright duration can differ depending on the type of copyright material and if it has been made public.

When copyright expires, the material falls into the 'public domain' and may be freely used.

For information on the duration for a specific type of material, please see our Duration of Copyright table.

When is copyright infringed?

Generally, copyright is infringed if a person does one of the exclusive acts reserved to the copyright owner without that owner's permission. There can be infringement even if only part of a copyright item is used. A use of a 'substantial part' can infringe.

Are there any exceptions to infringement?

The Copyright Act provides exceptions which enable some use of copyright material without the permission of the copyright owner in certain circumstances. The most important exceptions permit 'fair dealings' with copyright material for certain purposes:

  • research or study
  • criticism or review
  • reporting of news
  • giving of professional advice by a lawyer or a patent or trade mark attorney
  • parody and satire
  • making accessible format copies by, or on behalf of, a person with a disability.

Is overseas copyright material protected in Australia?

Often, overseas copyright material is protected in Australia. A key factor is whether the material is made by a national of a country that is a party to one of the relevant copyright conventions to which Australia is also a party.

Which copyright treaties and conventions apply in Australia?

Australia is a party to a number of international copyright treaties and conventions , including the:

Australia has also entered into a number of free trade agreements (FTAs) with both individual countries and groups of countries. Many of these FTAs include agreed rules on copyright. For more information on Australia's FTAs, see the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.

What about other types of intellectual property, e.g. trade marks or patents?

IP Australia is the Australian Government agency that administers the four types of registered intellectual property (IP) rights, including patents, trade marks, designs and plant breeder's rights. These types of IP are different to copyright and need to be registered with IP Australia. For more information visit the IP Australia website.

Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty provides exceptions to copyright protections to permit the printing and sending of accessible material in Australia and across borders. The Treaty establishes an authorised network of accessible format distributers, in turn reducing costly duplications.

The Treaty is an international agreement that will help an estimated 285 million people worldwide have greater access to books published in accessible formats such as large print, braille or audio.

The Marrakesh Treaty was adopted at the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2013 and Australia signed the agreement in June 2014.

Australia was among the first 20 countries to join the Marrakesh Treaty which came into force on 30 September 2016.

The Marrakesh Treaty implementation consultation process has more background information.

The full list of countries which have joined the Marrakesh Treaty can be found on the WIPO website.

You can also read a media release on the ratification.