When Can I Use Someone Else's Work Without Permission?

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 DomainPublic 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 LogoFair 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 LogoCreative 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.

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