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An Introduction to Copyright

by Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

 Copyright is a complex area of Law that is difficult to fully understand. Following is an outline of the copyright laws, but specific details should be checked.

 In Australia, work is protected by the Copyright Act 1968, the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention. Copyright is automatic and does not have to be applied for. The © symbol is not necessary to have copyright in Australia; the symbol is useful for reminding people of copyright and will protect the work overseas.

 Ideas are not covered by these legislations and conventions – it is the expression of ideas that is protected, so copyright only exists on work in ‘material form’ (i.e. on paper or computer or other medium.) As well as being in material form, the work needs to have a large degree of originality in order for it to be protected by copyright.

 The Copyright Act covers literary, musical, artistic and dramatic works, namely, books, plays, scores and poems. Then, there are productions of these works in forms such as sound recordings, readings, films, “published editions” and the like. Any particular piece may have more than one copyright attached to it, and different parties may hold these.

 Copyright protection does not include titles, names, “trivial expressions” and other insubstantial parts of any work. However, these parts may be protected under some other laws, such as Trade Mark Law and Passing Off Laws.

 Copyright is non-renewable, so once it has expired anybody can reproduce the work however they wish without requiring permission. In Australia, the USA and most of Europe, copyright extends for the writer’s lifetime plus another seventy years; if a pseudonym was utilised and there is doubt about the author’s real identity, then copyright lasts for 70 years from publication.

 The writer has all rights pertaining to the piece of work, unless they choose to give them away. The copyright holder has exclusive rights to publish, broadcast, photocopy, adapt, translate, transmit, email, record and so on. Any or all of these rights can be assigned or licensed to another person(s) or body. No body else has any right to do any of the above to the work without permission from the copyright owner.

 However, there are some exceptions to this rule in the form of “fair dealings” (copy up to 10% or one chapter for study purposes,) “library provisions” (within conditions, libraries can copy for study/research, preservation and library collection use) and “Statutory licenses” (educational facilities can make part copies for educational purposes and government bodies can copy certain portions of a work also.)

 Use of copyrighted material usually incurs a payment to the owner, including use by Government under statutory licenses. The Act does not specify royalties or fees applicable to any uses, although there are some industry guidelines.

Note that the assignment of copyright (including licences) only occurs if the copyright owner signs a written document to that effect.


Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and assists businesses in preparing all written documentation and web site content. Tash also writes parenting and business articles for inclusion in newsletter and web sites.


This article is available for free use on your web site or in your newsletter.

It must be acknowledged as written by Tash Hughes of www.wordconstructions.com.au and copyright remains the property of Tash Hughes.

Please notify us of your use of this article or to request information on commissioned articles.



© 2003 - 12, Tash Hughes