Introduction to Copyright

Introduction to Copyright

Understanding copyright is fundamental for educators and researchers who create and engage with a range of material on a daily basis. While copyright can be complicated, there are some simple facts that are critical to the work of a University that should be understood by all staff and students.

The information below gives a basic introduction to copyright, what it protects and how the protection works.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a type of legal protection that exists in certain creative works. This protection means that the copyright owner can control how others can use the work, including whether they can copy the work, email the work, place it online or perform and broadcast the work.

Copyright protection is finite. The duration of copyright varies depending on the type of creative material and whether it has been published. See information sheet Copyright Duration for further information

What material is protected?

The Copyright Act divides the materials protected by copyright law into two categories: 'works' and 'other subject matter'.


  • Artistic Works: paintings, graphics, cartoons, etchings, maps, diagrams, photographs, charts
  • Literary Works: novels, text books,  journals, poems, song lyrics, newspaper and magazine articles, anthologies, computer software
  • Musical Works: song music, film score, melodies
  • Dramatic Works: plays, mime, choreography

Other Subject Matter

  • Films: cinematographic films, video recordings, DVDs, television programs, MP4 files
  • Sound Recordings: CDs, MP3 files, cassette tapes, vinyl recordings
  • Broadcasts: radio and television broadcasts
  • Published Editions - typesetting (the format and look of a publication)

Who owns copyright?


The owner of the copyright in works will generally be the author of the material such as the writer, artist or composer of the work.

Other Subject Matter

The owner of copyright in sound recordings, films and broadcasts will usually be the maker of the material such as the producer of a film, the broadcaster of a broadcast and the record company that compiled that recording.

There are a number of exceptions to this general rule of copyright ownership. For example, copyright ownership may be varied by contract where the copyright owner agrees to assign their copyright to another party.  Also, an employer will usually own copyright in works produced by the employee in the course of their employment.

Copyright owner rights

Copyright law gives the copyright owner a number of exclusive rights to use the material. This includes the right to:

  • Copy/reproduce the material (photocopy, scan, upload/download or copy to a USB);
  • Publish the material (supply copies to the public);
  • Perform the material in public (perform a play or play a film/sound recording to the public); and
  • Communicate the material (email or make it available online such as on the Internet/intranet)

If you wish to do any of these things with material protected by copyright, you must obtain the permission of the copyright owner unless an exception applies.

Copyright & the public domain

Once the period of copyright protection in a work expires, the work is in the 'public domain'. This means that anyone can copy the work without having first to obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The period of copyright protection varies depending on a number of factors including on the type of work it is, if the author is known and if and when the work was published. See information sheet Copyright Duration for further information.

Some people mistakenly believe that once a work is published or available for free from the Internet, it is in the 'public domain'. This is not true. Publicly available Internet material, such as an online newspaper articles or images on Google or Flickr, are all protected by copyright.

Copyright & Macquarie University course material

You are not allowed to share any MQ course materials outside of iLearn. All material provided to you by the University is protected by copyright and can only be used for your personal educational and/or research purposes.

MQ course material is the intellectual property of the University. This includes recorded lectures, University course notes, unit outlines, lecturers’ presentation slides, assignment guidance material and tutorial handouts. Course materials must not be uploaded to any websites or shared with any people outside the University without the permission of the University. Doing so is likely to result in copyright infringement and disciplinary consequences.

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