Copyright Law

What Is Copyright Protection?

Copyright is the right of an author or creator of a literary or artistic work to control how their work is used or exploited. Australian Copyright law is designed to incentivise creation, allowing people to monetise use of their creative output control how it is used and who it is used by. However, it is crucial to understand how Copyright law applies to you, and how your work can be used by both yourself and by others.

Copyright can apply to many things, including:


A piece of writing

Such as a book, an article or a letter.
Shorter snippets of writing may not be substantial enough to attract Copyright protection but could be protected by a registered Trade Mark.

An artistic work

Such as an artwork, logo design or sculpture. Sometimes Copyright in 3 dimensional artworks can be lost if replicas of those artworks are put into production, in which case, it may be necessary to apply for design registration instead of relying on Copyright protection.


Music, film and theatrical works

Includes scripts, lyrics, sound, melody, compositions, storyboards and more. Copyright protects both literary and non-literary aspects of musical and theatrical works, and can become complex depending on the nature of the work. 

Computer code

Protected under Copyright as a literary work. This is often relied upon by software developers to circumvent reverse engineering. Unlike other forms of Copyright, code Copyright does not protect ideas, instead protecting the specific form of the code. 


Such as directories, databases or collages. In this case, Copyright might not apply to the actual content but to the way in which certain information has been arranged if there has been sufficient skill and labour exercised in the compilation.

How Do I Protect Copyright?

Copyright arises automatically upon the creation or publication of a work, so there is no need to apply for registration. However, if there is a market for your Copyright work in the USA, it may be wise to consider registering your Copyright there since this is one of the only jurisdictions in the world to have a Copyright registration system.

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How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

The term of Copyright protection varies according to the type of Copyright, but for most forms of Copyright, Copyright protection extends for 70 years after the death of the author. This ensures that your beneficiaries will have the benefit of using your Copyright well into the future. It also means that you should ensure that Copyright is treated as an asset of your estate when preparing your will to avoid future disputes regarding ownership.

Who Owns the Copyright?

In most cases, the owner of Copyright is the person who created the work. There are however exceptions to this where Copyright protection in work you have created may belong to someone else. These include:

Copyright Infringement

Where work has been created pursuant to a contract of employment as part of your ordinary work duties, that Copyright protection will normally belong to the employer, not the employee. This includes letters, precedents, guides, logos etc. that you have created on behalf of your employer.

Copyright Infringement

Where an artistic or literary work has been contributed to by others, there may be multiple owners of Copyright whose consent may be needed in order to exploit your Copyright.

Copyright Infringement

For some forms of commissioned works, such as family portraits, Copyright protection will belong to the person commissioning the work rather than the photographer. However, for most commissioned works, the person who has created the work will retain the Copyright, even if you have paid for it.

Copyright is an asset which can be licensed or assigned to another party by prior or subsequent agreement. However, it is important that any assignment of Copyright be drawn up in a contract in order to be valid under Copyright law.

Copyright Law

What Are Moral Rights?

Moral rights are the rights of the author or creator to be attributed and to retain the integrity of their work. In other words, there is a duty upon users of the Copyright work to acknowledge who the author is and to ensure that the work is not subjected to derogatory treatment. Those rights are independent to the Copyright in a work and are usually retained by the author even where Copyright has been assigned to another.

When Is Copyright Infringed?

Copyright can be infringed if there has been copying of either the whole or a significant part of the Copyright work. Often the issue of determining whether infringement has occurred is complex and there are many myths circulating as to how much a work needs to be changed in order to avoid infringement. If Copyright infringement is a concern, professional advice should always be sought.

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Fair Use &Fair Dealing in Copyright Law

While your Copyright material is protected under Australian Copyright law, there are specific situations where people can use it without needing the owner’s permission. This is called “fair dealing” in Australia, and is different to “fair use” laws in the US.
Currently there are five situations outlined in Australian Copyright law where Copyright material can be used without permission. These are:


Research or study


Criticism or review


Parody or satire

Reporting the news

Provision of legal advice.

Depending on the circumstances the use of Copyright material can be contested even if it may appear to fit into one of these categories. A Copyright lawyer can provide further guidance on whether your Copyright is being used fairly or if you are able to claim compensation for the use.

Contact us to find out more or to arrange a consultation with our Principal and Copyright lawyer,

Andrew Petale. Based in Melbourne, Y Intellectual Property can provide you with comprehensive support for Copyright legal issues, as well as a wide range of other issues pertaining to intellectual property. Discuss your needs with us today.

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