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by Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Copyright is made to protect people’s work, but it is a very complicated area of Law. Some of the major copyright issues are explained below.

 Copyright Ownership

 In general terms, the creator of the work is the owner of copyright. However, there are exceptions to this, such as when creating the work as part of employment when the employer often owns the copyright.

 Copyright can be sold or given to other parties. The copyright owner has the right to sell all copyright entitlements or just some of them, and specific terms can be applied. For instance, the right to copy the work may be given to someone for a period of six months at the same time that another party has the right to translate the work into German.

 Copyright exists for the life of the creator plus seventy years*. Thus, works by Shakespeare are no longer copyrighted as he died more than seventy years ago. Copyright is passed onto beneficiaries like any other possession or asset. In cases where the creator is not established, the copyright protection is for fifty years from publication.

 Thus, when trying to gain permission to use another’s work, it may not be the creator (or the beneficiaries thereof) who owns the copyright.

 Use of copyrighted material

 Copyright protects work being copied and reproduced without the owner’s permission.

 To use material that is copyrighted, you must gain approval from the owner for the exact circumstances of use. Finding the copyright owner can be done through agencies that deal with creator’s copyright (examples in Australia are listed below) or directly through the creator or publisher.

 Regardless of how difficult it is to find the copyright owner, using the work without their permission is an illegal act and may lead to prosecution.

 There are exceptions to the gaining of permission for educational purposes, reviews, library preservation and government requirements.

  Electronic Copyright Issues

 With the introduction of electronic media, copyright rules have been stretched. It is much harder to restrict and police reproduction of works via the Internet.

 Being available on the Internet puts work into the public domain but doesn’t automatically make it available for all to use.

 Accordingly, the Copyright Act 1968 was amended in March 2001 with a new section called Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000. E-books, website text and emails are now noted as part of the material protected by copyright.

 This change lists activities such as printing from a website, cutting & pasting from another site onto your own, saving website material onto a disk or promoting website material via intranet or email as being contrary to the Act unless permission is granted first.

 Exemptions to the amendment are essentially an extension of the exemptions already covered by the Act.


 Computer programs are also protected by copyright, and this can also be hard to police. This has resulted in a new term, copyleft, which is effectively copyright with some specific distribution terms attached.

 Copyleft applies mostly to software that the developer has made freely available to the public. Having made the software available, copyleft ensures that any later modifications to the work must also be freely available to the public.

  Moral Rights

 The Act was also amended in 2002 to include the concept of Moral Rights.

 These rights are to protect the reputation of the creator by assuring that they will always be acknowledged as the creator of the unaltered work. That is, it is not enough to purely acknowledge the creator when copying their work. The work must be copied sufficiently that the context of the work and its integrity are unaltered.

 Unlike copyright itself, moral rights can’t be bought or sold – they always remain with the creator.

 In other words, even if you own the copyright to someone else’s work, you cannot misrepresent it.

*Note Australian Law changed on 1 January 2005 so that copyright lasts for the life of the creator plus seventy years. This was not retrospective so copyright has expired for anyone dying before 1955. The USA and Europe have had the seventy year rule in place for longer.


Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and assists businesses in preparing all written documentation and web site content. Tash also writes parenting and business articles for inclusion in newsletter and web sites.

This article is available for free use on your web site or in your newsletter.

It must be acknowledged as written by Tash Hughes of www.wordconstructions.com.au and copyright remains the property of Tash Hughes.

Please notify us of your use of this article or to request information on commissioned articles.


© 2003 - 12, Tash Hughes