Copyright is a law that applies to forms of expression or content such as text, images and music. It enables people who create and invest in developing content to manage how others use the content.
In Australia and most other countries, copyright automatically applies as soon as the content is created and ‘fixed’ in some way (e.g. written down, recorded, saved). There is no requirement to register or go through any other process.
Copyright applies to the following:
- text (e.g. in books, journal articles, reports, webpages, plays and screenplays)
- images (e.g. photographs, artistic works, graphs, illustrations)
- video and moving images (e.g. films, videos, television commercials, vodcasts)
- audio recordings (e.g. music recordings, radio programs, podcasts)
- computer programs
As a general rule, the first owner of copyright in a work is the creator, unless the creator has assigned copyright to someone else. Where the work is the product of collaboration, the copyright may be jointly owned. Where works were commissioned or created in the course of employment, often the company owns the copyright.
Owners of copyright have exclusive rights to use their content in certain ways: e.g. to reproduce it or make available online. People who want to use other people’s content thus have to get permission (usually via a licence) from the owner of the copyright.
Copyright lasts for different periods depending on a number of factors including the type of material, when it was created, when the creator died and when it was published. Copyright periods can also vary from country to country.
In general, copyright in text, images and music lasts for 70 years after the year of the creator’s death, even if the creator does not own the copyright. The period was extended from 50 to 70 years in 2005, but only for content that was still in copyright on 1 January 2005. When copyright in a work has expired, it is often referred to as being in the ‘public domain’ or out of copyright.
For more information see About Copyright.