Copyright law in Australia provides the right to copy or reproduce someone else’s written work. Authors are able to use copyright as a form of ownership.
However, the concept and application of copyright law in Australia refers to more than simply owning a document, script, or manuscript, and having the right to copy or sell it. Copyright law in Australia provides the owner with a bundle of rights. These include exclusive rights to:
- Publish the work
- Adapt the work into another form
- Duplicate the work
- Broadcast the work
- Perform the work in a public setting
- Provide for the transmission of the work to subscribers (i.e. via email, etc.).
Application of Copyright
Copyright may only exist for works that have a substantial form, such as a book manuscript or magazine article. As well, each right mentioned above may be exercised separately – that is, it may be licensed or sold to different individuals or entities.
Copyright law in Australia does not protect the verbal expression of your ideas as an author. For instance, if you discuss an idea for a non-fiction book with a friend, your friend is not obligated under the law to recognize your ownership of the idea. If you want to retain copyright protection for your idea, you must write it down or record in some other form.
Is Copyright Protection Automatic in Australia?
Yes it is, in most cases. Simply put, as the author of a work, and regardless of how small it is, if you write it, you own the copyright to it.
One exception to this involves the situation in which an employee, such as a journalist working for an employer, produces written work or other content during the course of his or her employment. The copyright on that material will most often belong to the employer and not to the author. As mentioned, this exception applies often to journalists, but can also apply to employees writing company reports, business letters, or articles for publication by the company.
No Registration Requirement
Obtaining copyright in Australia, like Canada, requires no process of registration or the payment of a fee. Be sure to avoid an offer from any organization that proposes to register copyright for your work in exchange for payment.
Asserting Your Ownership
In Australia you can use the copyright symbol “©”prior to your name and the date of publication of your work. Although, it is not necessary in order to establish your legal rights. In doing so, you are simply asserting your ownership of the material. Using this symbol informs anyone reading it that you understand the exclusive rights you have to your work. An example of correct use of the copyright symbol is: © John Smith 2017.
Length of Copyright
The copyright of a new work in Australia remains in force for the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years.
Proving Your Authorship
On rare occasions, disputes can arise as to who is the original author of a copyrighted work. The Australian Copyright Council advises you as an author to retain all outlines, plans, and dated drafts of your work. Some individuals, seeking to doubly ensure their protection against copyright infringement, have taken the unusual step to mail their own manuscript to themselves via Registered Post. The date on the envelope provides a level of proof that the manuscript contained inside was created prior to that date.
Regarding possible disputes that can arise regarding a copyright work, the Australian Copyright Council gives the following advice:
“If there is a dispute about who created a copyright work, which cannot be resolved by negotiation, it may need to be resolved by a court. A court considers all the relevant evidence when determining a dispute. The most important evidence is usually the creator’s evidence and the evidence of the witnesses to the creation of the work. Such cases are extremely rare.”
Assigning and Licensing Copyright
Under copyright law in Australia, authors are permitted to assign or licence any of the rights to their original work.
Just as you may sell a vehicle or a house, assigning copyright is akin to selling it to another party, including all ownership rights. Although a screenwriter in the film industry may assign a film script he or she has written to a film company, providing them with full ownership of the work, this is not the normal course for authors publishing a book. If anyone asks you to sign a contract in which you assign your copyright to another party, you will be forfeiting all of your rights to ownership of the work. Seek legal advice prior to making this decision.
Under a licensing arrangement, an author permits another party to use those rights under the agreement while retaining ownership or copyright of the work. For instance, with a book publishing contract, an author and a publisher may come to an agreement in which the author permits the publisher to publish his or her book according to specified conditions in the agreement. The author may only allow the publisher to publish the book in a certain country. Or a restriction may be placed on the type of publishing form to be used, i.e. hard copy, digital, or audio. Other restrictions may also be a part of the licensing agreement.
As an author, you have the right to withhold certain rights from another party with whom you make a licensing copyright agreement. You can retain certain rights with respect to your work and licence other rights to a person or entity. It’s always important to speak with a knowledgeable expert in copyright issues before you move forward to sign a contract.
Know Your Options
Copyright law in Australia furnishes you with a bundle of rights that gives you great flexibility on how to dispense your work to your audience. Understand your options as an author. Whether you choose to duplicate, adapt, or make available your work to a subscriber base, protect the valuable commodity of your work as well as your investment of time and effort.