Libraries, Galleries & Museums

Libraries and other cultural institutions with collections (such as archives, galleries and museums) can make certain uses of copyright content without the permissions usually required.

Australian copyright legislation includes special provisions to allow libraries to copy and communicate text and images to:

There are also special provisions that allow libraries and other collections to:

  • preserve items in the collection
  • replace lost, stolen or damaged items
  • make certain ‘administrative’ uses
  • use material in other ‘special cases’

Each of the special provisions has conditions and limitations.

research or study

A library can supply certain published text and images to its clients for their research or study, without the permissions otherwise required.

The main requirements are:

1. Client request A client has requested the material for their research or study
2. Public collection
The requested material is in a collection that is available to the public. Either the collection of:

  • the library managing the request, or
  • another library whose collection is accessible to the public (directly or through ‘inter-library loans).
3. Written statement The library has a written statement setting out the particulars of the request from either:

a) the client that:

i) they request the material for their research or study,
ii) they will not use it for any other purpose, and
iii) the library has not previously supplied them with the material


b) an authorised person in the library that:

i) the client requested the material for their research or study,
ii) the client will not use the material for any other purpose,
iii) the client has not previously been supplied with the material,
iv) there is nothing material in the client’s request that the authorised person knows to be untrue, and
v) the client cannot conveniently provide a written request themselves because of their remote location.

4. Assessment of request An authorised person in the library must check that there is nothing material in the client’s request that they know to be untrue.
5. Statement kept four years The library must

  • keep the written statement for four years, and
  • enable inspection by copyright owners on request
6. Copying limits The library may not supply an entire work unless it is:

  • not available for purchase within a reasonable time
  • an article from a periodical publication (e.g. a scientific journal)*
  • an image accompanying text that can be supplied

Otherwise, the library may only supply a ‘reasonable portion’ (e.g. 10% or a chapter of a text work).

* A library can supply more than one article from the same periodical publication only if it is on the same subject.

7. ‘Marking’ of copies The library must ‘mark’ copies with the date they were reproduced and the name of the library.
8. Charge = cost recovery Any charge for supply of the material must not exceed the cost of making and supplying the copy.
9. Information accompanying communications An electronic communication (e.g. by fax or email) of requested material must be accompanied by a statement that the material:

  • may be protected by copyright, and
  • has been reproduced in accordance with section 49 of the Copyright Act
10. Deletion of communicated copy A copy that has been communicated to a client must be deleted by the library as soon as practicable.


Libraries and other institutions with collections can make preservation (backup) copies of ‘original versions’ in their collections such as:

  • manuscripts (writing and music scores)
  • original artworks (e.g. paintings, drawings, limited prints)
  • the ‘first record’ of a film or sound recording

‘Key cultural institutions’ can also make preservation copies of:

  • a published work, film or recording that is not available to purchase
  • rare editions

Institutions (including those that are not ‘key cultural institutions’) can make preservation copies in other situations under the ‘special case’ exception.

Preservation copies of artworks can be displayed on a ‘dumb’ terminal on the institution’s premises if the original has been lost or has deteriorated, or become too unstable to display.


Institutions with collections that are part of the Commonwealth or a State or Territory government can do anything for ‘government purposes’, provided they are covered by arrangements for fair payment or (in some cases) notify the copyright owner.


There are requirements in the Copyright Act and in State legislation to ‘deposit’ certain published material with the National Library and certain State and Territory libraries: see here and here.

The obligations to deposit material with the National Library have recently been extended to cover (from February 2016) digital content, including content published online (when requested by the library).


The Australian Copyright Council‘s services for the library sector include information sheets, detailed guides, an annual training program and a legal advice service.

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