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Do I have to register my copyright in Australia?

5 September 2019

In some jurisdictions, such as the United States, copyright works must be registered with a government copyright office to gain legal protection.

In this post we look at whether you need to register copyright in Australia, and what steps can be taken to maximise copyright protection.

Do I have to register copyright in Australia?

The simple answer is: No.

Unlike other forms of intellectual property - such as trade marks, patents and designs - under Australian law, registration is not required to gain copyright protection.

How does copyright protection arise?

Copyright is protected in Australia under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

Section 32 of the Copyright Act provides that copyright protection automatically applies to a literary, dramatic, artistic or musical work if:

  • where the work is unpublished:
    • the author of an unpublished work is an Australian citizen or resident ("qualified person") at the time the work was made;
  • where the work is published:
    • the work was first published in Australia; or
    • at the time of first publication the author was a qualified person; or
    • the author was a qualified person at the time they died (if first published after death of the author).

For sound recordings and films, under sections 89 and 90 of the Act, copyright protection automatically applies if the author is a qualified person at the date the work was made.

Individual creators are also protected with automatic rights known as Moral Rights. These protect an author or performer's right to be recognised as the creator and to have their work treated respectfully.

Material made by authors who are not qualified persons may still be protected in Australia, subject to mutual recognition of foreign copyrights under international conventions and treaties to which Australia is a party.

What steps can I take to protect my copyright?

It is normally easier to protect copyright material if it is recorded in "material form". In other words, the material should be written down or recorded in some tangible way.

Where multiple versions of the material exist, it's important to keep a record of each version or iteration.

It may be a good idea to include a date on the material and a record of the identiy of the author. Identifying the author is particularly important where more than one person has created the material.

The copyright owner may also choose to include a copyright notice on their work, although again this is not mandatory to obtain copyright protection in Australia. Using a copyright notice helps identify the claimed owner of the material, which can assist consumers to obtain appropriate licences for use.

Registration through Collection Societies

While there is no government agency in place to manage copyright registration in Australia, there are several non-government organisations (commonly known as "collection societies") that perform a similar function to registration.

In Australia, the key collection societies are:

  • APRA (Australasian Performing Right Association) - which administers copyright in printed music and live performance of music;
  • PPCA (Phonographic Performance Company of Australia) - which administers copyright in sound recordings;
  • CAL (Copyright Agency Limited) - which administers copyright in literary and artistic works;
  • Screenrights - which administers copyright in films and television broadcast material.

Collection societies offer members the opportunity to register their material and facilitate royalty collection through copyright licensing to copyright consumers.

Contracts

In many scenarios it is important to consider use of contracts to protect copyright. This can include when assigning or transferring ownership of copyright to another individual or organisation, employment, sub-contracting, and licensing arrangements.

In these scenarios, obtaining legal advice is strongly recommended to ensure that your rights are appropriately managed and protected.

This post is intended for general information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. You should obtain appropriate professional advice for your circumstances or contact us for further assistance.

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