Copyright is a set of legal protections that allow copyright owners to control how their works are used.

Australian copyright is governed by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). It is free and automatic and there is no system of registration.

Copyright ownership

The author of the work - the writer, artist, or composer - is usually the copyright owner.

  • The author must be a person. Computers and artificial intelligence cannot own copyright.
  • Copyright protection typically expires 70 years after the death of the creator.

Copyright can be assigned:

  • Publishers often require authors to assign copyright ownership to them
  • Employers usually own the copyright in works produced by employees in the course of their employment. See the UQ Intellectual Property Policy for details and exceptions.

The creator of a work has moral rights (including attribution) even if they no longer own the copyright.

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Rights of owners

Copyright owners have exclusive rights to use the material. This includes to:

  • Copy the material (photocopy, scan, upload or download, or copy to a device)
  • Publish the material (supply copies to the public)
  • Perform the material in public (e.g. a film, play or sound recording)
  • Communicate the material (via email or online)
  • License or transfer the copyright.
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Works in the Public Domain

You can use public domain works freely without needing to seek permission.

A work is in the public domain when its copyright protection has expired. This is usually 70 years after the death of the creator however, the term of copyright can vary.

Check if a work is in the public domain

For works by:

  • A person: check whether the author of the work has died and that this was more than 70 years ago
  • A corporation: check whether the work was made more than 70 years ago
  • Crown copyright: check whether the work was made more than 50 years ago.
Works that are publicly available online, such as YouTube videos, news articles, and images are not in the public domain from a copyright perspective. They are most likely protected by copyright.

Check their copyright status and seek permission from the owner before using these materials.
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Creative Commons and software licences

Creative Commons and Open Software licences are examples of times when a work can be used in line with the licence terms without having to ask permission from the copyright owner. Learn more:

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Seeking permission to use copyright works

You need to seek permission from the copyright owner to use a copyright work and when:

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Contact us for copyright advice

Email us at if you need assistance determining if a work is under copyright or with other materials in this guide.

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