Getting Started

In Australia, the rights of creators and users of copyright material are enshrined in the Copyright Act 1968 and apply to any work made or created in Australia. It is important that you understand how copyright works as you will be relying on copyright law to protect any work you create and also to reproduce other people's work.

Copyright infringement is a criminal offence punishable by law. The University takes its copyright obligations seriously and staff and students who breach copyright may face disciplinary action.

Watch our 3 minute video Study Help: Understanding Copyright, explaining what you need to know about copyright at university.

Understanding Copyright video still

copyright quiz

You must consider copyright every time you copy or communicate other people's work. Copying is making a reproduction of an item. The copy can be in print (e.g. making a photocopy) or electronic (e.g. scanning a book or downloading a digital image). Reusing someone else's work in a new creation is also a form of copying. Copyright applies no matter how much of an item is being copied, whether one paragraph or an entire book.

You are communicating a work when you electronically transmit or make the work available online to view or download. You are also exercising the right of communication when you email or fax a work to someone else, play a film or sound recording or read out loud in public

If you wish to reproduce, communicate, publish or perform a copyright protected work in your teaching or research, you may be able to do so if:

  1. You own the copyright;
  2. The University of South Australia owns the copyright and you are a staff member or student of the University wishing to use the material for the educational and business purposes of the University;
  3. Copyright in the work has expired (Public Domain):
  4. You are copying or communicating a short quote or extract;
  5. You have a licence to use the work (e.g. Contract, Terms and Conditions of Use). Electronic resources (e.g. e-journals, e-books and databases) licensed to the university must be used in accordance with the terms and conditions of those licenses.
  6. You have written permission from the copyright owner;
  7. You are reproducing material in a format to assist a student with a disability;
  8. Your proposed use is permitted under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act;
  9. You are copying or performing music within the limits and regulations of the University's Music Licence;
  10. You wish to reproduce the material for your personal use and you observe the limits and rules under the personal use provisions;
  11. Your use of text, images, sound and film is within the limits and regulations of the University's Statutory Licences.

For a work to be protected by copyright, it must be in a material form and have a human author. Copyright protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. It protects published and unpublished material, including material available in electronic form.

This means that books, conference papers, web pages, computer programs, journal articles, play-scripts, artworks (including book jackets and album covers), videos, music recordings, and TV and radio broadcasts are all protected by copyright.

The creator of a work is generally the owner of that work until or unless they assign their copyright to someone else. Ownership of a copyright work does not imply ownership of copyright.

There are some situations where the creator of the work is not the 'first' owner of the work:

  • Employees (copyright generally owned by the employer)
  • Commissioned works (copyright ownership will be governed by a commissioning agreement)
  • Government (the Government claims copyright ownership in works created by its employees)
  • Contract / Licence (copyright ownership will be set out in the agreement)

Copyrights can be sold or divided between divided to different parties. For example:

Copyright ownership flowchart

An author can also 'assign' (i.e. sell completely or licence partial use) by territory, media, and time.

Ownership of copyright by staff and students is described in the University's Intellectual Property: Ownership and Management Policy. Section 4. Ownership of Intellectual Policy describes in more detail how the Policy applies to teaching materials, funded research, scholarly works and student theses and assessment materials.

For works that are still in copyright, copyright generally lasts for the life of the creator plus 70 years. Please refer to the 'Duration of copyright' guide for specific provisions.

Under the Australian Copyright Act, copyright owners have a number of exclusive rights, including:

  • reproduction (e.g. photocopying, scanning, downloading)
  • publishing (distributing copies for sale)
  • performing or playing the work in public
  • communicating to the public (e.g. making available online, sending by email, delivering a conference paper)
  • making an adaptation or translation of the work
  • right to do any of the above acts in relation to an adaptation of the work

These rights are commercial rights and give the copyright owner a monopoly to control how their work can be used.

Rights may vary between different types of works.

Rights are exclusive to the copyright owner (i.e. the copyright owner may perform these actions or authorise someone else to do so).

Creators also have Moral Rights. These are not commercial rights and cannot be assigned or licensed.

In Australia, there are three main ways to determine if you can use someone else's work without their explicit written permission:

  1. The work is in the public domain.
  2. Your use of the work is permitted under one of the Fair Dealing exceptions in the Copyright Act.
  3. The author has explicitly defined the rights of use through Creative Commons licensing.

* Remember, you must always cite your sources and/or credit the author.

public domain symbolPublic domain and copyright

'Public domain' refers to material where copyright has expired or where the copyright owner has relinquished all their exclusive copyright rights in a particular work.

Note: Public domain is not equal to 'freely accessible'. Just because a work is freely accessible on the internet does not mean it is in the public domain.

copyright symbolFair Dealing and copyright

The Fair Dealing provisions are purpose-specific exceptions, which allow individuals to copy limited amounts of text, images, sound and film for a limited number of specified purposes.

Factors that may be taken into account in working out whether a use is 'fair' include whether the person using the material is doing so for commercial purposes, and whether the copyright owner is out of pocket from the use.

The mere fact that the person using the material is not making a profit does not make it fair.

Creative Commons symbolCreative Commons licensing

Under this scheme, creators retain copyright in their work, at the same time making their work available for others to copy and distribute in ways generally less restrictive than those allowed by copyright legislation.

There are six main Creative Commons licenses and all allow the user to:

copy, distribute, display or perform the licensed work publicly
make digital public performances of it (e.g. webcasting)
convert the work into another format.
Beyond this, the various licences may require attribution, allow the creation of derivative works, or permit non-commercial use only.

Useful Links

Under Moral Rights law, you must provide sufficient acknowledgement of the work copied, identifying the creator/author and the work from which the copy is taken (by its title and other descriptive information). Acknowledging the source of your work also helps avoid claims of plagiarism.

Moral Rights refer to the rights of an author or artist to be:

  • Acknowledged as the author of any work they create (Right of Attribution)
  • The right not to have an unauthorised version of their work falsely credited to them (Right against false attribution)
  • The right not to have their work subjected to unreasonable derogatory treatment, mutilation or alteration (Right of integrity)

Moral Rights cannot be assigned or licensed and last for the same period of time as copyright protection.

Remember - Always acknowledge the author / artist and title of any work you copy.'

If you don't know the source of the work, you need to indicate this:

Source unknown. All reasonable efforts have been taken to identify the copyright owner of this material. If you are the copyright owner or know who they are, please contact [insert contact details].

Attribution and copyright infringement are two different things. You can properly attribute a work and still infringe copyright.

Generally, copyright is infringed if the work or a substantial part of the work is used without permission in one of the ways exclusively reserved for the copyright owner.

Please fill in the Takedown Request form if you believe your work has been infringed.

Ask the Library

Opening Hours



*UniSA ID access may be required

Book a Room

Study rooms can only be booked by currently enrolled students

Make a booking (opens in a new window)