February 12, 2016

Copyright: What you need to know

What is copyright?

Most people don’t realize it but as soon as youcopyright-symbol design a logo, write a paper, create a poem or take a photo you automatically hold the copyright to that work. Copyright is a form of automatic protection for the creator of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. Essentially, what this statement means is that as the author of the intellectual works, you have the single authority to do what you wish with the piece you have created.

You personally have the right to or let others:

  • Create copies of your work
  • Issue copies of your work
  • Perform or display your work publicly (such as for films, plays or music) and
  • Generate “derivative works” (including making changes, revisions or any other new versions of the work)

Unless otherwise stated, it is illegal for anyone to do any of the above things without your express permission. However, there are some limitations to your rights as the copyright holder – the major limitation being the Fair Use Policy, discussed in this article.

Why should you care about copyright?

Whether you are a professional, amateur or an enthusiast, you don’t want people to use your creative work without your permission. Whether you’re posting your images on Instagram or Pinterest or writing articles on your favorite website, you want to know that your creative intellectual property remains safe under your control.

So what is covered by copyright?

Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are “fixed in a tangible medium”. Work is not entitled to protection until it meets these requirements. For example, if you create a song and even perform that song but do not write down this song as sheet music or record the song it does not have copyright protection.

Copyrightable intellectual works fall into the following categories:

  • Literary works (which includes computer software)
  • Musical works, including any accompanying words
  • Dramatic works, including any accompanying music
  • Pantomimes and choreographic works
  • Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
  • Motion pictures and other audiovisual works
  • Sound recordings and
  • Architectural works

What isn’t covered by copyright?

Not everything you create is covered by copyright law. The following categories are examples of things that are not protected:

  • Methods, ideas, procedures, systems, processes, concepts, principles or discoveries (However it’s good to note that written or recorded explanations, descriptions or illustrations of the same things are protected under copyright law)
  • Titles, names, slogans and listings of ingredients or contents
  • Works that are not fixed in a tangible form of expression, such as the example given previously, and
  • Any work that is comprised entirely of information that is commonly available and contains no originality (for example, standard measures and rulers, standard calendars or other common sources)

Who owns the copyright?

When you create any intellectual works that meet the requirements of the points above, authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created it and put into a fixed form. No one but the author can claim copyright unless the author grants the rights to another in a written agreement (for example, the author’s record company, client or publisher).

What happens if you don’t comply with copyright law?

If you ignore the exclusive rights of copyright law you have committed copyright infringement. Copyright infringement can be prosecuted in the court of law and the infringer may have to pay back the amount of money the infringer made when using the copyrighted work or how much the owner would have made if the infringement had not occurred.

How can we use copyrighted materials legally?

Fair use is the term used to describe the way in which the general public can use copyrighted materials without the owners consent. In Australia, the fair use of copyrighted works can be defined as being used “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, research, parody or satire”.

So what did we learn? If you want to reference copyright materials for your own analysis, to teach or educate and other uses described in the Australian fair use policy. If you want to take someone else’s work and advertise it as your own, sell the work or modify the work you need the express permission of the copyright author or potentially be in breach of copyright infringement.