Copyright laws protect authors of original material. Their creations are their own intellectual property & they have rights. A copyright owner is the only person allowed to reproduce a work or to make it public. Copyright protection is automatic on original material. It doesn’t have to be registered & there are no other requirements. So, everything is protected by copyright laws!
While this is true, it’s generally considered fair use to reproduce small sections of a work for the purposes of reviewing it or referring to it. However, this is only OK where the material reproduced doesn’t amount to ‘a substantial amount’ of the original work.
As a rule of thumb, more than 100 words is usually considered an amount that requires a licence or permission for reproduction from the copyright owner. This is assessed cumulatively so several short quotes may amount to over 100 words. And if the original work is a short poem or song lyric then even a few words could amount to ‘a substantial amount’ & be protected.
Copyright generally lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years.
Who Owns Copyright?
The original creator of material is the copyright owner unless an agreement has been made to the contrary. So, for example:
- ‘an author will own the copyright to his or her written words
- a publisher will own copyright of the published edition
- if you create material as part of your employment, your employer will usually own it
- in the case of journalists & photographers who work for periodicals such as newspapers & magazines, a special split ownership occurs.
However, rights may be assigned by being bought, sold or licensed. A licence to reproduce material may be exclusive or non-exclusive & may be limited by time or, to a certain territory or medium.
On top of copyright law, the creator of an original work can take action against anyone who:
- doesn’t attribute the work to its owner, or
- falsely attributes it as the work of someone else, or
- alters the work without indicating that it has been altered.
Organising a Licence
Publishing contracts assign the responsibility to clear rights with the author if he or she wishes to use copyright material. If you need to use copyright material in a publication you can normally contact its publisher to request permission. In addition, the Copyright Agency Ltd is a useful service that can organise copyright licences (at a cost) for certain material.
Protecting Your Work
Material that you have created will automatically be protected under copyright law. However, it’s advisable to include the copyright notice in your material to dissuade inappropriate reproduction.
- The Australian Copyright Council is a great source of information.
- The Arts Law Centre publishes various sample copyright agreements & has other useful info.
Remember: if in doubt, leave it out!