Copyright works such as text, images, art works, music, sounds, or movies

Copyright protects the way in which something is expressed. It does not protect ideas.

For example, if you wrote a new computer program to perform a function, the software code would be protected by copyright. Someone else could then write their own computer program to perform the same function. They would not infringe your copyright unless they copied the software code of your computer program.

Copyright protects Copyright does not protect Example Copyright infringement occurs when The most effective IP protection is achieved by
The words in a novel The ideas behind the story line of the novel Another novel with the same storyline written in different words will not infringe A distinctive or substantial part of the original novel is copied Copyright
Photographs The subject matter of the photograph, such as a landscape Another photographer who photographs the same landscape, from the same position, with the same zoom will not infringe copyright The original photograph is copied Copyright
The words and tables in a marketing plan The general business strategies described in the marketing plan Another company that uses the same general business strategies has not infringed copyright The original marketing plan or a substantial part of it is copied, that is, the words and tables are copied Copyright, and obligations of confidentiality, if applicable
The software code of a computer program The functionality of the computer program Another person can write a different computer program with the same functionality without infringing copyright The original software code is copied Copyright and patent protection, if applicable
The words that express a product formulation The formulation itself If another person separately develops the identical formulation, this will not be a breach of copyright The original expression of the formulation is copied Patenting the formulation
The words in a technical manual that explain how a secret manufacturing process works The manufacturing process If another person develops that process, there is no breach of copyright The manual is copied Patenting the manufacturing process, or maintaining it as a trade secret.

The following are just a few examples of works in which copyright subsists:

Artistic works

  • A novel
  • A poem
  • A photograph
  • A movie
  • Lyrics to a song
  • A musical composition in the form of sheet music
  • A sound recording
  • A painting
  • A plan for a building


  • Computer software application
  • Software code for a programming tool or software application
  • Software code for a website
  • Software code that manages a database


  • A database
  • Text of a marketing plan or business plan
  • Numbers and calculations in a financial forecast
  • Architectural plans
  • Annual reports
  • A manual for the operation of equipment
  • Technical specifications for a device
  • Business proposals
  • Letters and emails sent by a business

For copyright to subsist:

  1. there must be an expression of ideas in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, or in subject matter other than works, such as in an audio-visual performance
  2. the work must be original
  3. the work must be recorded in a 'material form', for example
    1. written down on paper or something else
    2. recorded by keystrokes saved on a computer
    3. recorded on film
    4. recorded on tape
    5. recorded as software code saved on a computer
    6. recorded digitally onto a device
  4. there must be an author or artist.

When does copyright protection start?

Copyright commences automatically as soon as the copyright work is recorded in a material form.

There are no formalities such as registration, publication, or examination (as occurs with trademarks and patents), and there are no fees payable.

When does copyright protection end?

The duration of copyright differs from one type of copyright work to another.

Duration of copyright

Under the Copyright Amendment (Disability Access and Other Measures) Act 2017 (Cwlth) which amended the Copyright Act 1968 (Cwlth), new terms of protection apply in Australia to copyright materials, including materials made before 1 January 2019 and materials created or made public on or after that date.

'Copyright materials' includes works (including literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works), sound recordings and cinematograph films.

These duration rules do not apply to material in which copyright expired by 1 January 2019.

Find out more about the duration of copyright in Australia from the Australian Copyright Council. Read more details in the duration of copyright information sheet.

The Australian Government Attorney-General's Department, which is responsible for copyright in Australia, is another source of copyright information.

There is an international treaty called the Berne Convention.

Countries that have signed the treaty have agreed to pass laws in their own countries that will extend to nationals of other signatory countries the same copyright protection that is extended to their own nationals.

Australia is a party to the Berne Convention, so Australians enjoy the same protection that is given in other countries that are parties to the Berne Convention.

The Berne Convention and other treaties also require treaty member countries to maintain minimum levels of copyright protection. With those minimum standards, and international harmonisation of copyright laws, by and large, Australians enjoy the same copyright protection in other countries as they do under Australian copyright law.

Accordingly, just as there are no formalities such as registration, publication, or examination of copyright works in Australia, and no fees are payable, so also, there are no such formalities in other countries, and similarly, no fees are payable in other countries.

View a list of member countries of the Berne Convention on the World Intellectual Property Organization website.

A copyright holder has the right to use the © symbol to indicate that copyright subsists in the work upon which the symbol is used, and to indicate who owns the copyright. The use of the © symbol, however, is not mandatory.

Someone who employs the © symbol when not an owner would be liable for engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct.

Your other rights as a copyright holder include the right:

  1. to obtain a court order to stop someone unlawfully using (infringing) your copyright (this kind of order is an injunction)
  2. to grant a licence to another person (e.g. in other parts of Australia, in other industries, or in other countries) to exercise some of your rights as a copyright holder, in return for licence fees, royalties, or other payments
  3. to sell your copyright
  4. to give your copyright away in your will

Other rights depend upon the nature of the copyright work; for example:

Rights Computer software Literary, dramatic and musical works (including databases, the text of a marketing plan or business plan, annual reports, operational manuals, technical specifications, letters and emails etc.) Artistic works
Copy the work
Publish the work
Make an adaptation of the work    
Translate the work    
Perform the work    
Broadcast the work
Make the work available on line
Rent out the work    

Moral rights are an author's non-economic rights:

  • to be attributed (that is, credited) for the work (the right of attribution)
  • not to have the work falsely attributed
  • not to have the works treated in a derogatory way (the right of integrity).

Who has moral rights?

Moral rights are held by the authors or creators of the copyright work, and always stay with the author or creator.

Moral rights cannot be sold or transferred. They are personal rights held by the author or creator.

The sale or assignment of the copyright in a work does not affect the author's moral rights, which continue.

Are moral rights relevant?

Moral rights can easily be understood in the context of literary, musical and artistic works.

Moral rights are less easily understood in the context of business-related works (e.g. computer programs) or business documents (e.g. marketing plans and business plans).

Nevertheless, moral rights apply equally to computer programs and these business documents.

How do moral rights arise?

Moral rights arise at the same time as copyright arises, that is, upon the creation of copyright material.

How long do moral rights last?

Moral rights have the same duration as copyright.

Can moral rights be waived?

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cwlth) permits moral rights to be waived by authors, either in relation to all moral rights, or in relation to specific acts.