Having a knowledge of copyright law will help you understand your legal rights when producing work, and ensure you do not infringe on the rights of others.
Copyright, the right to own, reproduce, communicate, publish, perform and adapt your creative works, is inherent and applies from the time a work is created. The copyright symbol © does not need to be used to establish that the work is under copyright – the creator of an artistic work is automatically the copyright holder. Copyright protects only tangible expressions, not ideas. To possess copyright over something, you must create it and hold it in some tangible form (e.g. a music recording or written script.)
Who owns my work?
If an employee is the creator of a piece of work that is part of their employment, then it is the employer that holds the copyright. This is important to remember – if want to create personal work that is considered by law to belong to you then you’ll need to make sure that you do it in your time and that it isn’t connected to anything you are doing in your paid work as an employee.
If you are a freelancer you may be commissioned by others to create work. In this scenario, you generally have legal ownership to your work. The person or group or who contracted you is also able to use your work, but must credit you whenever it is used.
Australia does not have any law surrounding royalties or resale rights so it is your responsibility to keep on top of where your work is being used!
What are moral rights?
Copyright law affords creators some moral rights.
These rights include:
Proper credits for your work when it is used.
Having your work treated in a way that is not damaging to your reputation (e.g. your work should not be changed or destroyed without permission).
These rights may vary depending on the type of work and may be limited in some cases, so make sure you know what you are entitled to according to your creative field.
How long do I hold copyright for?
Copyright law in Australia operates under a ‘plus 70’ rule. This means that the creator of a piece of work will still own the copyright until 70 years after their death.
Can I re-use others’ work?
There are some ‘Fair Use’ clauses that allow others to use or reproduce work in certain circumstances. These may include during study, in satirical works or reviews. Your copyright may have been infringed if used outside these guidelines.
Copyright is there to protect artists and you have some inherent rights when it comes to the work you produce. It is important to remember this and to think about how you feel about your work being used in the public domain.