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Understanding copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is a set of rights that govern the copying and communication of created material.

It allows content creators to make a profit from their work and have some control over how their work is used by others. For users, copyright allows you to use someone else's work without needing direct permission.

What gets protected by copyright?

Copyright protects the physical (or digital) expression of an idea. An idea is not protected in any way under law. There are many ways to express an idea so it gets copyright protection. These include:

  • literary works - written books, journals, reports, articles, stories, poems, lyrics
  • dramatic works - written plays, scripts, and screenplays
  • musical works - written composition/annotated musical work
  • artistic works - images, maps, graphs, diagrams, illustrations, paintings, drawings


  • sound recordings - musical and non-musical
  • films - moving images
  • broadcasts
  • published editions - protects the text, format, and layout of newly published versions of out-of-copyright works.

In Australia copyright protections begins as soon as an idea is expressed in a material form. There is no requirement in Australia to register your work with a governing body.

What is required for a creation to be protected by copyright?

Material form

Copyright protection applies to all material forms, including physical and electronic formats. It doesn't protect ideas.

Original expression

Copyright protects original creations. The skill or effort required is not extensive, but the creation cannot significantly copy or resemble another work.

Human author

An original work must be created by a human author. Animals or AI created works are not protected.

How long does copyright last?

In Australia copyright typically lasts 70 years past the death of the creator. Once the duration of copyright ends, the work moves into the public domain and can be used for any reason without permission.

To explore the factors that can affect the duration of copyright, visit the copyright duration timeline.

Who owns copyright?

Copyright is usually owned by the creator unless there is an agreement to state otherwise. If you create work as part of your employment, copyright will be owned by your employer in most cases. This is laid out in your employment contract. When working with a research or funding body the ownership of copyright can vary.

The golden rule is to read your agreements and if you do not understand what they say, ask for help.

If you collaborate with someone, copyright is owned equally by the multiple creators. It is important to have a contract or written statement that confirms you created the work together and hold equal copyright ownership. All copyright owners need to approve a request to reproduce the work before someone can reuse it. You can delegate someone in your contract to make these decisions for you.

Who owns copyright at Deakin?


Students own copyright in their own original work. In group projects the copyright is owned jointly by the contributors.

Researchers and academics

Researchers and academics own copyright in their scholarly material unless the contract states the research or funding body owns copyright. Scholarly works can include essays, books, chapters, journal articles, documentaries, poems, etc.

The University

The University owns copyright in:

  • original teaching material - the University can grant teaching staff permission to use this material outside of Deakin if the content is labelled © Deakin University
  • material created by professional staff as part of their employment, including emails and reports

Rights of the copyright holder

Copyright protection exists in the form of certain rights given to the copyright holder. This allows them to control what happens to their work. The rights are intertwined, and it is often impossible to do one without the other. For example, it is extremely hard to communicate something without reproducing it as well. These rights can be transferred or licensed to others and held by a business or an individual.

Click on the + icons below to read examples of each of the rights.

Moral rights and attribution

In addition to the rights of the copyright holder, there are three ‘moral rights’ that are inherent to the creator. These rights cannot be transferred and can only be owned by the human author. They can choose to waive these rights.

  1. Right of attribution: the right of a creator to be identified and named as the creator of their work.
  2. Right against false attribution: the right of a creator to stop someone else being credited as the creator of their work.
  3. Right of integrity: the right of a creator to ensure their work is not subjected to derogatory treatment. This is any act in relation to the work that is harmful to the creator's honour or reputation.

Get in touch

The Copyright Team provides copyright help to everyone within Deakin. We manage Deakin University copyright and external requests to use University works.