Sep 2013

Copyright in Australia

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A Brief Introduction to Copyright in Australia

General Features

Copyright in Australia is covered by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), although regular amendments have been made since that date, usually when dealing with new technologies, or concerns that arise from time to time. Copyright is just one area of the law dealing with Intellectual Property (IP) considerations.

The general rule in Australia, is that the first owner of copyright is the creator of a work, with a primary exception to this being where a work is created by an employee of a business as part of that person’s job.

For freelance commercial photography, this means that copyright is automatically held by the photographer. This situation is similar to the USA, and a majority of countries around the world.

Another feature of Australian Copyright law, is that there is no requirement for registration, or even the need to add a copyright notice to a work. A copyright notice is often added however to facilitate the easy recognition of copyright ownership, or to allow tracking the author of a work.

Copyright in a work operates for the lifetime of the author + 70 years.

Rights of the Copyright Owner

Owners have a number of rights. They have the exclusive rights to;

1. Reproduce the work.
2. Make the work public for the first time, and
3. Communicate the work to the public.

Copyright Owners also have the rights to license the use of their works, in return for a “Valuable Consideration”. Whilst this most often refers to a financial payment, it can also refer to a contra arrangement of items or services. Providing a license is in effect giving permission for the licensee to use copyright work.

Licensing can be specific as to the conditions under which works can be used. See our page on Licensing Explained for more details. Any conditions required by a client for usage can be arranged through the creation of an appropriate license.

Infringement of Copyright

Unless a special exception is applicable, people or companies will require permission (i.e. a license) to use copyright material in the ways covered under the exclusive rights of the Copyright Owner.

Using part of a work can also constitute infringement if the part used is a distinctive or important part of the original work.

Moral rights

A number of Moral Rights are held by the creator of a work, whether or not they retain ownership of copyright. Primarily, these give the creator the rights to;

1. Be attributed as the creator of their work
2. Take action if their work is falsely attributed, and;
3. Take action if their work is altered in such a way that is prejudicial to their reputation.

Moral rights cannot be assigned to another entity as copyright may, however permission may be granted to waive the rights.

More Information

If you wish to investigate further, information regarding all areas of Australian Copyright law can be obtained from the Australian Copyright Council at

Please note: this article is meant to provide an overview of Copyright law in Australia, specifically with regard to commercial photography. It is in no way meant to be taken as legal advice. We suggest you speak to the Copyright Council or a lawyer if you are seeking legal advice.

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