Copyrighting Artworks in Australia

Australia provides excellent protection for copyright over artistic works. Because copyright often holds significant commercial value, the government ensures that the rights of creators are looked after at all times.

There are no formal systems for registering or maintaining copyright in Australia. While intellectual property attorneys normally deal with issues of trade marks and registered design, their support is also indispensable when managing copyright.

In this article we’ll learn more about copyright, how it applies to art and what you can or can’t do as a copyright holder in Australia.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of intellectual property that grants the creator of a work the exclusive right to use, sell, reproduce and licence that work. Copyright protection typically covers things like:

  • Written word, including books and poems
  • Musical works (partial or complete)
  • Plays, scripts and performance-based works
  • The design of buildings and structures, including maps
  • Artistic works, such as paintings, drawings, sketches and sculptures

Australia’s copyright laws are set out in the Copyright Act 1968. Under the act, most copyright lasts for 70 years from the original date of creation.

It’s important to note that copyright protection is only valid in the jurisdiction in which it was awarded. If you want international protection for your work, you will need to apply in individual jurisdictions. This can be a lengthy process and is best handled by an intellectual property attorney.

How to Obtain Copyright in Australia

Copyright is automatically granted in Australia as soon as a work is put into tangible form. There is no need to register your work, and there is no formal application process.

People often wonder how copyright claims are enforced if there is no formal application process. The simple answer is the creator of a work will typically have no trouble proving that they are the originator. If a matter goes to court, the creator can submit evidence such as original digital files, conversations with friends, timestamps and publication dates to prove their ownership.

Furthermore, when a work is copied en masse, the court will consider the manufacture and distribution date of the copied works. This typically makes it very easy for a court to determine who holds the copyright to a work.

Copyright protection has become more important with the rise of the internet. This is especially challenging for works that are produced and/or distributed digitally. To protect your copyright, digital works can be protected with digital rights management information. Removing DRM encryption is illegal in Australia under some circumstances, so this is an effective way to manage your copyright.

Your Rights as the Copyright Holder

As a copyright holder in Australia, you are granted a series of legal and moral rights. Your legal rights include:

  • The right to publish your work in print
  • The right to sell printed versions of your works
  • The right to reproduce your artwork through scanning or photography
  • The right to distribute your work through the internet

Your moral rights include:

  • The right to be properly credited where your work is used
  • Protection against false accreditation of your work (particularly if the false accreditation could harm your reputation)
  • Protection against disrespectful uses of your work (particularly if the disrespectful use could harm your reputation)

Generally speaking, you have the exclusive right to use, reproduce, sell or distribute your work. Other parties (including individuals and businesses) cannot do any of these things with your express permission.

While Australians receive automatic copyright protection for most types of tangible works, it’s also common to add a copyright notice to the work. The copyright symbol or a written notice can be placed in a prominent place on the work. This lets others know that the work is subject to copyright (as opposed to being free to use, or subject to something like a Creative Commons licence) and that the copyright is actively maintained.

This is not a requirement to maintain your legal and moral rights as the copyright holder, but it’s advisable.

Other Forms of Intellectual Property

While Australia’s copyright system provides excellent protection for things such as artistic works, it doesn’t protect all types of works. In addition to copyright, works, inventions products and services can also be protected by:

  • Design registration – Registered designs provide protection for the physical form of tangible, manufactured products. This does not include the function of the product, merely the appearance and ornamentation. Some elements of product ornamentation may be protected by copyright, but design registration is a more robust system, especially if you intend to manufacture your products overseas.
  • Trade marks – Trade marks are used to protect original branding, products and services. If something distinguishes your company from that of competitors, it can probably be trade marked. Trade marks must be formally registered with IP Australia to be valid.
  • Patents – Patents protect original inventions. Applying for a patent can be a lengthy and expensive process, but patents hold immense commercial value, so this process is typically worth it. There is minimal overlap between the protection of a patent and copyright.