What is copyright

Copyright protects the original way in which facts or ideas are expressed, for example in writing, source code, a drawing, painting or photograph. Copyright does not protect the facts or ideas themselves. Nor does it protect names (e.g. geographical names, family names) or slogans, for example, promotional campaigns).

To be protected by copyright, material/subject matter must be original and in material form (i.e. written down or recorded, not just an abstract thought or idea). Copyright covers materials created both in hard copy and electronic format.

Copyright does not protect ideas, so it does not prevent the independent creation by another person of an expression of a similar idea. For example, if you and another person both write an original essay about the same topic, copyright protects both essays.

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cwlth) (Copyright Act) divides copyright into:

  • literary works, such as books, articles, scripts and poems, and compilations, such as databases and directories
  • artistic works, such as photographs, paintings, sculptures, maps and plans (Note: 'Artistic' for the purposes of copyright is just the title of the category. It does not imply an aesthetic quality. For example, for the purpose of copyright, there is no difference between a work by a critically acclaimed artist, such as Picasso, and that of a novice)
  • dramatic and musical works
  • subject matter other than works, including films, broadcasts, sound recordings and multimedia; and published editions (i.e. typographical arrangement of the work that is separate from the content of the work reproduced).

Copyright protection

To be protected by copyright, the subject matter must be original and in material form (i.e. written down or recorded). Protection is automatic and copyright exists:

  • for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works—when it is first written down or reduced to material form. For example, handwritten text, drawing, painting, typing text in a Microsoft Word document, recording on a disc
  • for a cinematograph film—when all the necessary things have been done for the production of the first copy of the film
  • for a sound or television broadcast—when the broadcast is made from a place in Australia.

Duration of copyright

The duration of copyright protection for literary, dramatic and artistic works is generally the life of the creator plus 70 years. Other rules may apply, depending on the subject matter such as films, sound recordings and multimedia.

Find out more about the duration of copyright in Australia from the Australian Copyright Council and read 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.