Copyright myths

There are many myths and misconceptions about copyright. Here are some facts.

The following information is for guidance only. It is not legal advice.



If there’s no copyright notice, it’s not covered by copyright Copyright automatically applies to written and artistic works from the moment they’re created. You don’t have to ‘do’ anything to obtain copyright. The copyright notice (©+ name of copyright owner + year) is an internationally recognised signifier that a work is protected by copyright that you can put on your work, but not necessary for copyright protection.
If it’s unpublished, copyright doesn’t apply Copyright applies to published and unpublished content. As soon as a work is ‘fixed’ in some way (e.g. on paper, or saved to disk), it’s covered by copyright.
If it’s on the internet, anyone can use it Copyright is not ‘waived’ when you publish text or images on the internet. You can decide how you would like people to use your online content. Guidelines for using online text and images usually appear on a website’s ‘terms of use’ page.
I don’t need permission if I copy less than 10% Using even a very small part of someone else’s work can require permission if that part is an important or integral part and was the result of skill and time. There are some provisions in Australian copyright law that allow the use of 10% without permission in special circumstances. For example, students can use 10% of a work for their research or study, and educational institutions can use 10% of a work under the ‘statutory licence’ for education.
I don’t need permission if I make changes to it Making changes doesn’t take away the need to get permission. If you use an important part of someone else’s work you might need permission, even if you make changes to it. You also need to be careful that you do not make changes to someone else’s work that they may regard as derogatory.
I can use other people’s content provided I credit them You have a legal obligation to credit the author when you use their work, unless the author has agreed not to be credited, or it is not ‘reasonable’ to credit them. Using a work for the purposes of criticism, review or reporting news is conditional on crediting the author and title of the work. In other cases, you might need permission even though you credit.
I can use other people’s content without permission provided i don’t make money out of it You usually need permission even if your use is non-commercial. The content creator may set different terms for non-commercial use (e.g. a different fee) but you still need to ask.
If I pay someone to create something for me, I own the copyright If the content creator is on staff, and the work is created during their employment as part of their job, usually the employer owns the copyright. If, on the other hand, the content creator is an independent contractor, then they will usually retain copyright unless there is something in writing transferring copyright to you. If you have not made an agreement about how you may use the material, you would usually be entitled to use it for the purposes it was commissioned for, but may not be entitled to use it for other purposes.
Getting permission is difficult  It needn’t be. It is a good idea to think about what will be easy to clear for use before you select the content. Depending on your need, Copyright Agency|Viscopy may be able to assist you with a clearance. While Copyright Agency’s main business focus is on ‘blanket’ licences for internal use in organisations and institutions, we also offer pay-per-use licences for text and images (now with an automated online facility for newspaper content).
The rights revert to me when my book is out of print This depends on your contract. If your contract is not explicit about rights reversion, you may need to seek legal advice (e.g. from the Australian Copyright Council). Publishing contracts generally have a provision for rights to ‘revert’ to the author when the book is ‘out of print’, but you’ll need to check the definition of ‘out of print’. Also, you may need to send the publisher written notice asking for reversion of rights.
I need to register my books with copyright agency to receive a payment Registering your books with Copyright Agency does not increase your likelihood of attracting a payment. It simply assists our researchers. Copyright Agency payments are allocated to works that are recorded as being used by our licensees in routine sample surveys. If those works happen to be registered in our database, it makes it easier for our researchers to identify the rights owners entitled to payment.
Education and public lending rights payments are the same as copyright agency payments No, they’re different. Copyright Agency payments are for copying and sharing of content under licences managed by us. These licences apply in a range of sectors, including education, government and business. The Education and Public Lending Rights (ELR/PLR) schemes are Australian Government cultural programs administered by the Department for Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport. The schemes are designed to compensate authors and publishers for the potential loss of sales revenue due to the borrowing of their books from educational and public libraries.


The Australian Copyright Council publishes information sheets and detailed guides, offers a legal advice service and runs an annual training program.

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Cathy Wilcox [Photo © Caitlin Hicks]

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Cathy Wilcox

I love thinking! I love the satisfaction of having an idea that ‘sings’, that works as a comprehensive piece of logical extrapolation and exposes an absurdity.

Photo by Caitlin Hicks

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