Copyright Scotch

When does copyright apply?

In Australia, copyright protection is automatic. This means that a work does not need to be registered or have a copyright notice on it to be protected by copyright. A work will be protected as soon as it is put into material form, such as being written down or recorded in some way (filmed or recorded on an audio tape).

When can you use other peoples work?

If you want to use someone else’s work, you can generally only use it if:

Your use is permitted under an exception contained in the Australian Copyright Act (‘Copyright Act’). 

There are a list of exceptions called ‘fair dealing’ in the Copyright Act that allow students to copy and use other people’s works for the purpose of ‘research and study’, ‘criticism and review’, ‘satire and parody’ and ‘reporting the news’.  See section on Fair Dealing below.
The copyright owner has said that it can be used for free or has licensed the material under a Creative Commons licence. See the section on Creative Commons.
You ask the copyright owner for permission and they give it. This is called permission or a licence.

What is the public domain?

Once the period of copyright protection expires, the work is in the ‘public domain’. This means that anyone can copy the work without having first to obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Some people mistakenly believe that once a work is published or available for free from the Internet, it is in the ‘public domain’. This is not true. Publicly available Internet material, such as an online newspaper articles or images on Google or Flickr, are all protected by copyright.

Public domain works are works where the period of copyright protection has expired

How long does copyright last?

The period of protection will differ depending on the type of creative work.

Artistic, literary, musical and dramatic works are protected from the time the work is created until 70 years after the creator has died.
Films, sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was released.

What is copyright?

A simple definition of copyright is that it is a bunch of rights in certain creative works (literary works, artistic works, musical works, computer programs, sound recordings, films and broadcasts) which can be used to stop others from copying the creative works without permission.

At its most basic, copyright is simply the exclusive right to copy.

The rights are granted exclusively to the copyright owner to reproduce (copy, scan, print) and communicate (email, put on Internet) the material, and for some material, the right to perform or show the work to the public. Copyright owners can prevent others from reproducing or communicating their work without their permission. Only the copyright owner can licence or sell these rights to someone else.

Why is copyright important?

Copyright is important because it gives creators control over their creative works. This means they can decide who uses their work, how it can be used and if they will charge a fee to other people who want to use it. This gives creators the ability to earn a living from their works and/or to control how their works are used or disseminated.

What does Copyright protect?

What does copyright protect?

Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, styles or techniques. For example, copyright will not protect an idea for a film or book, but it will protect a script for the film or even a storyboard for the film. Basically, copyright only protects creativity that is in a tangible medium.

The types of works copyright protects include:

Artistic Works - paintings, photographs, maps, graphics, cartoons, charts, diagrams and illustrations

Literary Works - novels, textbooks, poems, song lyrics, newspaper articles, computer software, computer games

Musical Works - melodies, song music, advertising jingles, film scores

Dramatic works - plays, screenplays and choreography

Films and Moving Images - Feature films, short films, documentaries, television programs, interactive games, television advertisements, music videos and vodcasts

Sound Recordings - MP3 files, CDs, DVDs, vinyl and tape recordings, podcasts.

Broadcasts - Pay and Free to air television and radio

It is important to note that online text, images, broadcasts, videos and music on websites, wikis, blogs and social networking sites are all protected by copyright. See Public Domain below.

Copyright and plagiarism

The relationship between copyright and plagiarism can be tricky to understand. Plagiarism is a type of misconduct that, in some cases, may also give rise to copyright infringement.

Plagiarism occurs where a student uses someone else’s ideas or words in their work and pretends they are their own. If the student has used a lot of someone else’s words without that person’s permission, copyright infringement may also occur.


Students can copy and communicate limited amounts of works under “fair dealing” without seeking the permission of the copyright owner. To rely on fair dealing, the use of the material must be fair and for the purpose of:

research or study
criticism or review
parody or satire
reporting the news

Most of the copying students will do will fall under fair dealing for research and study. In some cases, a student will be copying material under both fair dealing for research and study and another fair dealing purpose such parody and satire or criticism and review.

Overall, deciding whether a student’s use is ‘fair’ will be determined largely by how much of the work has been copied. This can be tricky as the Copyright Act provides little guidance on what constitutes a ‘fair’ amount.

How much is fair?

How much is ‘fair’?

The Copyright Act states that students are permitted to copy a reasonable portion of a literary, dramatic or musical work in both print and electronic form for the purpose of research or study. Reasonable portion is defined to be 10% of the number of pages or one chapter if the work divided into chapters.

In all other cases, the Copyright Act is silent on how much a student can copy for their use to be ‘fair’.  This means that no guidance is provided on how much of:

A sound recording, film/moving image or broadcast can be used by a student under fair dealing for the purpose of research or study.

Any work can be copied under fair dealing for criticism or review, parody or satire or reporting of the news.

As a general rule, students should only copy what is necessary for the fair dealing purpose to ensure that their use is ‘fair’. In most cases, this will only be an extract of the work and not the whole work. For example, in preparing an essay, a student is likely to copy several pages from a book or an article from a journal. This is permitted provided the extracts copied are necessary for the student’s research or study. Further, if the student is making a parody of a song or film, it is unlikely that the student will need to copy the whole work for the fair dealing purpose. In such a case, copying an extract of the song or film as necessary will be ‘fair’.

In limited circumstances, a student may be permitted to copy a whole work provided the whole work is necessary for the fair dealing purpose. For example, a student may need to copy an entire short poem when preparing a critique on the poem.

Overall, when relying on fair dealing, students must:

Use extracts and not whole works. In rare cases, a whole work can be copied provided it is necessary for the fair dealing purpose.
Always attribute the author and publisher where the source is known. See Attribution below.


TIP: Where possible, students should link to material and use Creative Commons licensed material.

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