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Copyright protection is free and automatic in Australia and protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves.

Common works protected by copyright are:

  • books
  • films
  • music
  • sound recordings
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • artwork.

Copyright also protects originally created:

  • typographical arrangements
  • databases
  • media broadcasts
  • computer programs
  • compositions of other people’s work such as academic journals or CD compilations.

Australian copyright is administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.

How it works

The moment an idea or creative concept is documented, on paper or electronically, it is automatically protected by copyright. Because it is automatic in Australia, there is no official registry or application process for copyright protection.

Copyright protection is provided under the Copyright Act 1968 and gives you exclusive rights to license others in regard to copying your work, performing it in public, broadcasting it, publishing it and making an adaptation of the work. Rights vary according to the nature of the work. Those for artistic works, for instance, are different from those for literary and musical works.

Copyright doesn’t protect you against independent creation of a similar work. Legal actions against infringement are at times complicated by the fact that a number of different copyrights may exist in some works – particularly films, broadcasts and multimedia products.

Copyright laws differ from country to country, however Australia is party to a number of treaties that increase the copyright protection of international works.

The Australian Copyright Council provides more information on copyright, including international considerations.

Consider using a copyright notice

Although a copyright notice with the owner’s name and date is not necessary in Australia, it can help prove your ownership of the copyright. Using a copyright notice can also act as a deterrent to potential infringers.

Copyright and designs

It is important to note that copyright is lost if you apply a three-dimensional artistic work industrially. Most three-dimensional designs that are mass produced have very limited copyright rights. This means if you have created a three-dimensional design for industrial purposes you will usually need to formally register it as a design in order to receive protection.

Duration of copyright

Depending on the material, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts 70 years from the year of the author’s death or from the year of first publication after the author’s death.

Copyright for films and sound recordings lasts 70 years from their publication and for broadcasts, 70 years from the year in which they were made.

AUSFTA – changes to copyright

There were a number of changes to the Copyright Act in 2004 as part of the implementation of the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). More information on the AUSFTA can be found on the Austrade website.

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