Understanding Copyright Law

Understanding Copyright Law

What is Copyright?

Copyright is the exclusive right of owners to protect certain creative works from being copied by others without the owners’ permission.

What types of work does copyright apply to?

Copyright applies to artistic and creative works such as music, sound recording, text (for example, in books, reports and webpages), films, television commercials, radio programs, podcasts and computer programs.

When does copyright apply?

In Australia, copyright protection exists automatically from the moment content is created in a tangible form. This means the content has to be either written down, recorded, saved to disk or filmed. However, the work does not necessarily have to be published. Copyright will still apply to unpublished work.

In Australia, there is no formal registration process for copyright to apply to any work. Unlike a trademark registration, copyright protection automatically applies if:

  • The work was original;
  • The work was created by an Australian resident or citizen; and
  • The work was either created or first published in Australia.

What are the limits on copyright protection?

Copyright protection protects the expression of a concept. It does not protect underlying ideas, styles, techniques or concepts themselves. The limits of copyright protection can be best understood through the following examples.

Example 1: Take for example the circumstance where you have an idea to build a particular online business. Before you even begin building the business, you attempt to validate the idea by sharing it with a friend. Your friend then goes and builds that exact online business in the exact way that you described it to them. You cannot pursue them for copyright infringement because there is no protection in underlying ideas.

Example 2: In this second example, you show your friend a particular website that you have built for your online business. Your friend then goes and builds a website which has the same functionality but looks completely different. Again, you cannot pursue them for breach of copyright because they have only copied the underlying idea, but have not copied your designs, text or other artistic works.

Example 3: In the third example, your friend builds a website with the same wording, designs and pictures as your website. In this example, you can pursue them for copyright infringement because they have reproduced your work without your permission.

The copyright symbol ©

Having a copyright symbol “©” or notice on your published work is useful to remind people that your work has copyright protection. However, because the protection automatically applies in Australia, not having a copyright mark does not mean that your work is free for anyone to reproduce, or that you have granted a license for anyone to use your work. Despite the automatic protection, our recommended best practice is to always have the copyright symbol on your webpages and other works.

If you wish to display a copyright notice on your website, you should have the following:

  1. The © symbol or the word “Copyright”.
  2. The year the work was first produced or created.
  3. The name and owner of the copyright (this can be your business name, company name or your own name).

Copyright vs plagiarism

Copyright and plagiarism are not the same thing. Plagiarism is when one person copies another persons work, and claims that work as their own work. Copyright on the other hand is the requirement to request permission from the owner of a work to use their work, communicate their work or display their work. For example, if you wish to play a film in public, you need to request permission from the owner of that film for a license to do so. If you play the film without requesting their permission, you are infringing on that owners’ copyright protection. If on the other hand you play that film and claim that you made the film yourself, you have plagiarized the owners work.

The importance of copyright

Copyright is important because the creators of work should have the right to decide how, when and where their work is displayed. It is particularly important for artists and businesses because they have the ability to charge fees (usually license fees) to people who wish to use their work. Without copyright protection, people would be unable to earn money from the work they produced.