What is copyright?
Under the Australian Copyright Act, a majority of material you produce is automatically protected by copyright. You do not have to register your material for it to be protected. Neither do you need to mark it (for example, with ©), although this can clarify the copyright status of your work for users.
Copyright gives the copyright owner a right to take action if somebody else uses their material without permission in one of the ways reserved to the copyright owner, unless an exception to infringement applies.
Who owns copyright?
In general, copyright is owned by the creator of the copyright material. However, there are several important exceptions to this, including in relation to copyright material created in the course of employment.
The University’s IP Policy sets out the University’s position in relation to intellectual property (including copyright) created in the course of your employment. The terms of your employment contract may also affect the ownership of copyright material you create at work.
For more information about ownership of copyright, see the Copyright Council’s fact sheet on ownership of copyright.
What if someone infringes your copyright?
If you are a copyright owner and someone infringes your copyright, in most instances it is up to you to take action to stop the infringements and/or claim compensation or other legal remedies. This is a civil legal claim. However, if the infringement occurs on a commercial scale or involves commercial dealings it may be a criminal offence.
If you are a member of a copyright collecting society, such as Copyright Agency, you may be able to get assistance from that organisation to deal with infringement of your copyright.
In general, the University is unable to provide legal advice to you, or advocate on your behalf, in relation to matters concerning the infringement of copyright owned by you. The University can only take action to protect copyright material owned by the University.
Taking action on infringement of copyright
If your copyright has been infringed, the first step is to identify how you would like to resolve the situation. In some cases, you may want the infringement to stop. In other cases, you may want to negotiate a fee for the use of your copyright material, or an attribution for the use. If you are unsure about your rights or how to resolve the situation you should get legal advice before taking any action.
The next step is to contact the infringer. Depending on the location of the infringement, there may be a standard process for notifying the infringer of your claim. For example, if the infringement occurs on a website, there may be a ‘notification and take down’ procedure for you to follow. Check the website’s copyright notice for details. In other circumstances, communicating your concerns by letter or email may be appropriate.
In either case, be aware that depending on the country in which the infringer is located, different levels of detail about the infringing material, as well as your rights in the copyright material that has been infringed, may be required.
As a starting point, the Copyright Council recommends the following to be included in your letter:
- a statement that you are the copyright owner or exclusive licensee of the material;
- an outline of the legal rights of copyright owners/exclusive licensees;
- the basis on which you believe the person has infringed your copyright;
- a clear statement of what you want to happen to resolve the situation;
- a reasonable time frame within which your demands must be met; and
- a statement that further action may be taken if your demands are not met within the specified time frame.
Before you send an infringement notification, be sure that the infringer does not have any legal rights to use your copyright material. For example, they may have a right to use your material under a contract, or due to fair dealing or fair use exceptions under the copyright law of the country in which the infringement occurs. You may be liable for damages or other civil penalties if a person against whom you allege infringement can prove that your claim is unfounded.
Here is a sample notice of infringement and take down for website content.