Guide to Copyright



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Government materials


The Australian Government and State or Territory Governments own the copyright in materials which are made by or first published under their direction or control. Further information about the use of material in which the Australian Government owns copyright is available from www.ag.gov.au/copyright.

What are the rights of a copyright owner?

Economic rights


The Copyright Act gives copyright owners a number of exclusive economic rights. These exclusive rights vary according to the different types of works and other subject-matter protected by copyright.

Literary, dramatic or musical works


The owner of copyright in a literary, dramatic or musical work has the following exclusive rights:

  • to reproduce the work in a material form (which includes making a sound recording or film of the work or including a substantial portion of the work in a database)

  • to publish the work (that is, to make copies of the work available to the public for the first time)

  • to perform the work in public

  • to communicate the work to the public (which includes the electronic transmission of the work such as a broadcast, and making the work available online)

  • to make an adaptation of the work (which includes an arrangement of a musical work and a dramatisation or translation of a literary work), and

  • in the case of computer programs, and works recorded in sound recordings, to commercially rent the sound recording or computer program.

Artistic works


The owner of copyright in an artistic work has the following exclusive rights:

  • to reproduce the work in a material form (which includes reproducing a two-dimensional work in a three-dimensional form and vice versa)

  • to publish the work, and

  • to communicate the work to the public (which includes the electronic transmission of the work such as a broadcast, and making the work available online).

Other subject-matter


The owner of copyright in a film or sound recording has the following exclusive rights:

  • to copy it

  • to cause it to be heard or seen in public

  • to communicate the material to the public (which includes electronic transmission, and making the film or sound recording available online), and

  • in the case of a sound recording, to commercially rent it.

The owner of copyright in a radio or television broadcast has the exclusive right to make a sound recording, film or photograph of it, to re-broadcast it, or to communicate it to the public (otherwise than by re-broadcasting it, eg internet streaming).

Licensing of rights


Copyright owners may exercise any of the above rights themselves or may give permission to other people to do so. Such permission is referred to as a licence. Copyright owners may grant a licence that is subject to certain conditions such as the payment of a fee or royalty or limit the licence as to time, place or purpose.

Moral rights


The Copyright Act also provides creators with certain non-economic rights known as moral rights. They are the right of attribution of authorship of one's work, (the right to be named in connection with one's work), the right against false attribution of authorship and the right of integrity of authorship (the right to object to treatment of one's work that has a detrimental effect on one's reputation).

Moral rights apply to all creators of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, film-makers (producers, directors and screenwriters) and also for performer’s for their live performances and sound recording of their performances.

A film maker’s right of integrity of authorship in respect of a film is limited to the author's lifetime. In all other cases, moral rights endure for the term of copyright.

Due to the personal nature of moral rights, they may not be assigned (ie given away to another) or licensed. It is, however, possible for an author to provide a written consent in relation to certain treatment of his or her work that might otherwise constitute an infringement of moral rights.

A range of remedies is available for an infringement of moral rights. These include an order for damages, an injunction or a public apology. The Copyright Act provides a general reasonableness defence to actions for infringement of the right of integrity of authorship and the right of attribution of authorship. It also provides specific defences to actions for infringement of the right of integrity of authorship in relation to certain treatment of buildings and moveable artistic works.

What are performers' rights?


Under the Copyright Act, performers have:

  • part-ownership of copyright in sound recordings of their performances;

  • rights to control recording and communication of their live performances; and

  • moral rights in live performances and performances incorporated in sound recordings.

Performers have the right to grant or refuse consent to the recording or live broadcasting or online streaming of their performances. Performers may also prevent certain dealings in unauthorised recordings of their performances, such as broadcasting, making available online, copying, sale, hire, distribution, importation and possession for trade, and the use of an authorised sound recording on the sound-track of a film ('synchronisation right'). These rights cannot be assigned.

A performer can now take action against an unauthorised non-broadcast transmission to the public of their performance, eg, Internet streaming of the performance.


What is a performance?


A 'performance' includes a performance of a literary, dramatic or musical work (whether or not in copyright) or a performance of a dance, circus or variety act or an expression of folklore. However, reading, recitation or delivery of an item of news or information and the performance of a sporting activity are explicitly excluded from the definition of a 'performance' for the right to control recording and communication of their live performances.


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