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Copyright in Australia is governed by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)  Copyright in Australia is an automatic right; it does not require registration. Copyright protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. It is probably the most prominent form of intellectual property. Copyright is administered by the Attorney-General’s Department.

Think of the word ‘copyright’: it is the ‘right of copy’. Imagine that a novelist has written a short piece for a friend as a gift and given it to them. Although the writing is no longer in the novelist’s possession, the friend cannot copy the writing and distribute it. They do not own the copyright in that original expression of ideas. However, the idea the writing is based on – for example, the evocation of memory through taste, is not copyrighted.

The two classes of protected material in copyright

The Copyright Act divides material into two general classes for copyright protection:

Works: artistic, musical, literary, and dramatic works; and
Subject matter other than works: sound recordings, films, broadcast, and published editions.

What are examples of copyrightable material?

Some common categories to which copyright attaches include:

  • books
  • song lyrics (distinct from song melodies and harmonies)
  • film scripts
  • dance moves
  • paintings, photographs, sculptures and other artworks
  • musical scores
  • computer programs
  • newspapers
  • magazines
  • sound recordings – CDs, tapes, mp3s
  • TV and radio broadcasts
  • films

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