Guide to Copyright

What law governs copyright in Australia?

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What law governs copyright in Australia?

Copyright Act 1968

Copyright exists in works and other subject-matter by virtue of the Copyright Act 1968. The only exception to this is in relation to certain limited prerogative rights of the Crown in respect of copyright in Acts of Parliament.


The Copyright Regulations 1969, the Copyright Tribunal (Procedure) Regulations 1969 and the Copyright (International Protection) Regulations 1969 specify matters related to the operation of the Copyright Act.

Access to the law

The Copyright Act and Regulations are constantly under review and are amended from time to time. Access to electronic versions of Commonwealth legislation is available through the Attorney-General's Department’s legal information retrieval system, ComLaw. Hard copies can also be purchased through the ComLaw website.

  • Copyright Act 1968

  • Regulations enabled by the Copyright Act 1968

What does copyright protect?


The Copyright Act protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. In order for copyright to subsist in a work it must be made by a resident or citizen of Australia, or made or first published in Australia, or has a specified connection with a country which is a member of a relevant international copyright treaty. (See ‘Is overseas copyright material protected in Australia’).

Literary works

Most materials that are reduced to writing or some other material form by a creator and which are not trivial in content are literary or dramatic works. Such works may be in electronic or hard copy form. Such works include letters, e-mails, articles, novels, poetry, song lyrics, timetables, databases and computer programs. No level of literary merit is required for copyright to subsist in a work. However, single words, slogans or titles are not usually protected as literary works.

Are names and titles protected by copyright?

Copyright protects literary works including books, poems and newspaper articles. The Copyright Act does not expressly protect names and titles. In most cases dealing with this issue, the courts have held that names and titles are not protected on the basis that they are not substantial enough to constitute literary works and that they fail to satisfy the test of originality under copyright law.

Artistic works

Artistic works include paintings, photographs, sculptures, engravings, sketches, blueprints, drawings, plans, maps and buildings or models of buildings, irrespective of the artistic quality of the work. They may exist in electronic or hardcopy form. There is also a category called 'work of artistic craftsmanship' that must satisfy the added criteria of aesthetic appeal and be the result of the work of a skilled craftsperson in order for it to be protected by copyright. Items such as hand-woven tapestry, handmade jewellery or crafted furniture may fit into this category.

Works must be 'original'

Works are only protected by copyright law if they are 'original' works. A copyright work will be considered original if it is the product of the creator's own intellectual effort and has not been copied from another person's work. However an original work could be a compilation of other works, eg in an original anthology or selection, where the permission of the copyright owners of those individual works compiled would be needed.

Copyright in subject-matter other than works

The Copyright Act also protects sound recordings, films (which include pre-recorded television programs and videos), radio and television broadcasts and published editions of works. These categories of copyright material are collectively referred to as 'subject-matter other than works'.

Independent existence

The copyright in each type of work or other subject-matter has independent existence. For example, for a film broadcast on television, separate copyright may subsist in the film itself, the broadcast of the film, the underlying script and any sound recording which is part of the film. Different copyright owners may own each of these different kinds of copyright. Similarly, for a compact disc, there may be a separate copyright in the lyrics, the composition and arrangement of the music and the sound recording of the work.

No copyright in ideas or information

Copyright does not protect ideas or information as such but only the original expression of ideas or information. Copyright differs fundamentally from patents, trade marks and designs in this way. For example, unlike the grant of a patent, which gives monopoly rights over the idea of an invention, the creation of a copyright work does not grant a monopoly over the ideas or information expressed in the work. Rather, rights are granted to the copyright owner in respect of the reproduction (and certain other uses) of that particular expression of ideas or information which has been fixed in a material form.

Copyright, therefore, does not prevent the use of the same idea or information. If two people independently create similar works based on the same idea or information, and neither is a copy of the other work, there is no issue of copyright infringement. For example, two artists may set up canvasses in the same spot and paint the same waterfall. Both artists would have copyright in their works and there would be no infringement of copyright providing the artists do not copy each other's painting.

How do you obtain copyright protection?

The Attorney-General’s Department is aware of Australian-operated websites purporting to offer copyright protection or Australian ‘registration’ of copyright for payment of a fee.

No such registration or other formality is necessary for copyright protection in Australia, and these websites have no authority or capacity to guarantee copyright ‘protection’.

If you are considering using one of these services, please read the information on copyright protection below.

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