Understanding copyright

What is copyright?

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

It allow 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.

Copyright protects the tangible expression of ideas or information, but doesn't protect the actual ideas or information. This includes:

  • 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 new published versions of out of copyright works.

Copyright is automatic in Australia and needs no formal registration, so as soon as your idea is expressed in a tangible format (written out, drawn, recorded etc.) it is protected.

Who owns copyright?

Copyright is usually owned by the creator, however copyright can be shared, sold or given or contracted away.

The copyright in material you create belongs to you, unless you signed a contract to state otherwise.If you create work as part of your employment, copyright will likely be owned by your employer as stated in your employment contract.

If you sign a contract with a publisher, research or funding body, check the agreement terms to see who will own copyright. If the contract is unclear, request a clarification from the publisher.

If you collaborate with someone, copyright is owned equally by the multiple creators. It’s a good idea 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?

Researchers and academics

Researchers and academics own copyright in their scholarly material, unless your 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:

  • research and works created in the course of research, such as (but not limited to) log books, reports and databases
  • 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
  • works created in the course of research by academic staff as part of their employment


Students own copyright in their own original work.

Rights of copyright owners and creators


Copyright owners generally have the following rights over their work:

  • To reproduce (to make a copy)
  • To publish (or cause the work to become publicly available)
  • To perform publicly (live, on stage or presenting at a conference)
  • To communicate (to make it available online or electronically)
  • To broadcast (radio or television)
  • To make adaptations (to make different versions of the work)

You need permission from the copyright owner to use the material in any of the above ways, unless allowed under excepted in the Copyright Act.

Creators (moral rights)

Creators of material have a special set of rights that apply regardless of whether the creator owns the copyright or not. Moral rights are:

  • The right to be correctly attributed
  • The right to take action if your work is falsely attributed
  • The right to take action if your work is treated in a derogatory or prejudicial manner (in such a way that would harm your reputation as the creator or damage/destroy the work itself)

You have the right to be named as the creator (even if you are not the copyright owner) unless you have agreed not to be attributed as the creator.

In Australia, copyright normally lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. However, copyright duration rules have changed, so different rules may apply.

If copyright has expired, then the material becomes part of the public domain, and is free for anyone to use for any purpose.

Further information

For more information on calculating duration of copyright, see:

  • The Department of Communications and the Arts Duration of Copyright table, particularly:
    • Page 1: Copyright material made before 1 January 2019 (other than Government copyright material)
    • Page 4:Copyright material made on or after 1 January 2019 (other than Government copyright material)
    • Page 5: Government copyright material made before or after 1 January 2019
  • Australian Copyright Council’s information sheet on duration