Copyright guide for Students


What is copyright?

Copyright is a system of laws that is designed to protect the works of authors from unauthorised copying and transmission, whilst at the same time allowing the public to have reasonable access to information. Australian Copyright Law is contained in a piece of federal legislation called The Copyright Act 1968. Of course, it's been amended many times since 1968, but that's what it's called.



Copyright terminology

In the language of copyright, the things that a person creates, such as essays, photographs, cartoons, stories, novels, term papers, paintings, maps, plays and musical scores are called 'works'. So there are literary works (books, letters, articles, term papers etc.), dramatic works (plays, film scripts, scenarios, treatments and the like), musical works (this means scores, music that is written down, NOT recorded music), and artistic works (photos, paintings, drawings, animations, diagrams, etc.).

Audiovisual items such as films and sound recordings are referred to as "subject matter other than works" or sometimes just "subject matter".

Are you confused yet? Well, just to add another dimension, a computer program is designated a 'literary work', and recorded music (CDs, MP3 files, tapes, records, etc.) is classed with audiovisual items as 'subject matter other than works'.

You don't have to register copyright. In Australia, copyright protection is automatic. There is no need to register your work. Once the work is created, and 'exists in a material form' i.e. is written down, printed, painted, photographed, recorded on disk or hard drive, then it is protected by copyright. Of course, the work has to be original, and not a copy of someone else's.



Who owns copyright?

In most cases, copyright will be owned by the author or creator of the work. If you are a student, then you will own the copyright in the works that you create - that is, the copyright in any assignments, research, theses, essays, papers, websites, artistic or musical works that you create, will be owned by you.

There are some exceptions:
In some special circumstances, for example when you are a member of a research team, you may sign an agreement regarding the ownership of intellectual property. If you are an employee, then your employer will normally own the copyright in any works that you create as part of your job. If you are on work experience or placement, you should find out from your supervisor what the situation is regarding ownership. (If the employer is not paying you, he is unlikely to own the copyright in works that you create, but make sure.)



OK, so I own copyright in my work. What does that mean?

A copyright owner has a number of exclusive rights, that is things that only he or she can do, or authorise someone else to do. In general, these rights are:

  • to make copies of the work
  • to publish the work
  • to perform the work in public
  • to make adaptations of the work - e.g. make a novel into a screenplay
  • to communicate the work to the public - i.e. to put the work online and make it accessible to the public.

A full table of exclusive rights is listed in the glossary. If someone else does any of these things without your permission, they will infringe your copyright.



What can I do if someone does use my work without permission?

You can do several things. Firstly, approach the person concerned and point out to them that they have taken your work without permission. If no agreement can be reached, you may have to ask a lecturer, or the head of school, or the University Copyright Officer for assistance. These people will be able to advise you what to do. It will be important that you are able to prove your ownership of the material.



Plagiarism and copyright

Plagiarism occurs when you take the ideas of someone else and present them as your own. Under University Rules, plagiarism is an offence. Penalties range from nil marks to expulsion from the University.

Although you may avoid copyright infringement by rewriting the ideas into a different arrangement, you may breach the ethical standards of the University if those ideas are not attributed.



Computer software

If you have bought some computer software, or you are a licensed user, the Copyright Act says that you may make a copy of the program for the purposes of backup, research and study, error correction, interoperability (making your program interact with other software) and security testing.


Copying computer software

If you are the legitimate owner or a licensed user of a computer program, sections 47AB to 47H of the Copyright Act specify the circumstances under which a reproduction of the program is allowed to be made. Broadly, these circumstances are:

  • to make a backup copy
  • to use the copy and store the original
  • to develop interoperable programs
  • error correction
  • security testing
  • data backup.

Copying software for any other purpose is a copyright infringement and carries heavy penalties. University policy prohibits the presence of illegally obtained or unlicensed software on University owned equipment.


So, while I'm a student, what can I copy?

The Copyright Act has some sections in it called the 'fair dealing' sections. One of these sections relates to 'fair dealing for research and study'.

This section says that you may copy a 'reasonable portion' of a work for your own research and study. The Act says that a reasonable portion is 10% or one chapter of a book, or one article from any one issue of a journal. If the material you want to copy is in digital format, then you can copy one chapter, if the work is in chapters, or 10% of the number of words, if it is not divided into chapters.

Pictures, animations, graphics and diagrams may be copied also.

Research and study includes assessment, so you may include portions of works in your assignments, projects and theses, provided that you attribute the sources properly.

If you later want to publish your thesis as a book, or are required to include it in the institutional repository, then you will need to contact the copyright owners of any images or substantial portions of text, that you have used, and ask for their written permission to use these items in your published work. This is because when the thesis goes online, it will be being communicated to the public and this is not covered by the 'fair dealing' provisions. More information on Copyright in your thesis.

The same kind of 'fair dealing' applies to subject matter other than works (e.g. sound recordings, videos, etc.), so it would be possible to make copies of reasonable portions of these things for research and study.

What is a 'reasonable portion' is not defined for these things though, so you need to be careful to ensure that your use falls within the realms of 'fair dealing'.



What is a 'fair dealing'?

You need to take the following criteria into account when determining whether the dealing is 'fair'.

The purpose of the dealing
For example, copying in a study environment will be more likely to be fair than copying to use the item commercially.

The nature of the work
It may be less fair to copy a work with a high degree of skill than it would to copy one based on less skill.

The possibility of obtaining the work within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price
Are you copying the work because you don't want to buy it, even though it is readily available at the standard price?

The effect of the dealing on the potential market for, or value of, the work
For example, making one copy for your personal use is more likely to be a fair use than making a number of copies, and

In a case where part only of the work or adaptation is copied, the amount and substantiality of the part copied taken in relation to the whole work or adaptation
It would be considered less fair to copy a large or important part of the work than it would to copy a small or unimportant part.



Important things about 'fair dealing'

If you have used a portion of someone else's work under the 'fair dealing' provisions, you have to remember that you can only use it for that purpose. So if, for instance, you had created a website as a class assignment in which you used some animations or graphics from somewhere else, you cannot use that website for any other purpose, such as inclusion in an employment portfolio, or for entry in a Web design competition, or any other use outside SCU, unless you get permission from the copyright owner.

The other thing to remember is that making a copy for a friend, or to stick on the fridge, or for entertainment, isn't a 'fair dealing', and could cause you problems. Learn more about 'fair dealing'.



What about the Internet?

You may have heard that all the stuff on the Internet and the World Wide Web is free. Well, that's not quite correct. Certainly material is freely available, but it all belongs to someone, and whilst there is generally no harm in your downloading material for personal use, to distribute that material further would infringe someone's copyright. If you want to use material found on the Web for your research and study, you may do so under the 'fair dealing' provisions, but remember that you are restricted to using the material for that purpose only.



There's lots of music on the Web, is it OK to download that?

Music is particularly dangerous stuff to deal with online. The Music Industry, the people who own the copyright in the songs, are very keen to defend their property. There are many websites offering free downloads of music, or offering music for a small fee, and most of these sites are offering illegal copies. If you come across a website offering lots of downloads from many different bands and artists, then you can be pretty sure they aren't legitimate. Note that using University equipment and networks to download music for entertainment purposes is a breach of the University Computing Conditions of Use rules, and will cause you to be involved in disciplinary action and perhaps have your account suspended.

Copyright amendments in December 2006 permit making copies of legitimate music recordings that you own into another format, e.g. for use on mp3 player or on to CD. You must own the device on which the copy is to be played, and you cannot give away copies. This conversion is permitted for private and domestic use only.



What's this 'moral rights' stuff?

As part of the Copyright Act, you have two 'moral rights'. These are the right of attribution, that is, the right to have your name associated with works you create, and the right of integrity, that is, the right to not have your work changed or altered without your consent in any way that would harm your reputation. There's a much fuller discussion of 'moral rights' in the 'Key copyright concepts' section.



Printing and downloading material from Library electronic databases

Licensing conditions on the individual electronic database services generally allow printing a limited number of hard copies of full text articles, as well as storing an item or search details electronically. The guidelines for amounts of copying are similar to those in a paper-based environment, including the illegality of copying a complete edition of a journal.


Using Open & Creative Commons licensed images

Here are some links to sites where you can search for open or Creative Commons licensed images:

Where can I get more help?

If you need more information, or are unsure about something, contact the Copyright Office.

Good luck with your studies!


(Thank you to Mike Lean, QUT Copyright Officer, for the majority of words in this student guide.)