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Students and Copyright

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Who owns the copyright in work?

The person who creates a work will normally own copyright in it. In general:

  • the creator of a visual art work will own the copyright in the artwork
  • the author of a poem will own copyright in the poem
  • the production company of a film will own copyright in the film
  • the composer of a song will own copyright in the music of a song
  • the record company will own the copyright in a sound recording of music
  • the broadcaster will own the copyright in the radio or television broadcast


How long does copyright last?

The period of protection will differ depending on the type of creative work.

  1. Artistic, literary, musical and dramatic works are protected from the time the work is created until 70 years after the creator has died.
  2. Films, sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 70 years from the end of the year in which the work was released.


What is the public domain? 

Once the period of copyright protection expires, the work is in the ‘public domain’. This means that anyone can copy the work without having first to obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Some people mistakenly believe that once a work is published or available for free from the Internet, it is in the ‘public domain’. This is not true. Publicly available Internet material, such as an online newspaper articles or images on Google or Flickr, are all protected by copyright.

Public domain works are works where the period of copyright protection has expired.


When can you use other people’s work

If you want to use someone else’s work, you can generally only use it if:

  1. Your use is permitted under an exception contained in the Australian Copyright Act (‘Copyright Act’). 

    There are a list of exceptions called ‘fair dealing’ in the Copyright Act that allow students to copy and use other people’s works for the purpose of ‘research and study’, ‘criticism and review’, ‘satire and parody’ and ‘reporting the news’.  See section on Fair Dealing below.
  2. The copyright owner has said that it can be used for free or has licensed the material under a Creative Commons licence. See the section on Creative Commons.
  3. You ask the copyright owner for permission and they give it. This is called permission or a licence. 


Fair Dealing 

Students can copy and communicate limited amounts of works under “fair dealing” without seeking the permission of the copyright owner. To rely on fair dealing, the use of the material must be fair and for the purpose of:

  • research or study
  • criticism or review
  • parody or satire
  • reporting the news

Most of the copying students will do will fall under fair dealing for research and study. In some cases, a student will be copying material under both fair dealing for research and study and another fair dealing purpose such parody and satire or criticism and review.

Overall, deciding whether a student’s use is ‘fair’ will be determined largely by how much of the work has been copied. This can be tricky as the Copyright Act provides little guidance on what constitutes a ‘fair’ amount.

TIP: Students should link to material or use Creative Commons licensed material where possible. See Creative Commons and Smartcopying Tips below.

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