Copyright, Creative Commons and the public domain

This resource will overview copyright, Creative Commons and the public domain.

What is copyright?

Copyright is:

a bunch of rights in certain creative works (literary works, artistic works, musical works, computer programs, sound recordings, films and broadcasts) which can be used to stop others from copying the creative works without permission. — Smartcopying 2016

In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 protects the rights of creators to determine how their work is used and distributed. Copyright does not apply to ideas or concepts, but rather the way these ideas and concepts are expressed.

All works and subject-matter other than works are automatically covered under the Copyright Act at the time of it creation, and there is no onus on the creator or copyright holder to register or notify others (Australian Copyright Council 2014).

Therefore, in order to use a work or subject-matter other than works, you must seek permission from the original creator or copyright holder, unless otherwise stated. The Copyright Act contains a provision for students and researchers called ‘Fair Dealing’, which allows students and researchers to use copyrighted works without permission in certain circumstances.

The University of Wollongong has a comprehensive website detailing how this provision can be used by students are UOW.

What's protected under copyright?

  • Literary works including journal articles, novels, letters, e-mails and computer programs.
  • Dramatic works including screenplays, plays and mime pieces.
  • Artistic works including paintings, sculptures, sketches and blueprints.
  • Musical works including melodies, film scores and advertising jingles.
  • Subject-matter other than works including film (documentaries, feature films, TV advertisements), sound recordings (CDs, DVDs, podcasts), and broadcasts (TV and radio broadcasts). (Smartcopying 2016)

What's not protected under copyright?

  • Ideas, concepts, styles, techniques and information.
  • Names, titles of work and slogans.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons licences provide:

flexibility for creators to share their work with the public without infringing any copyrights law. — Creative Commons 2016

Creative Commons (CC) is an organisation that allows creators and copyright holders to give permission to others to re-use their works easily and legally through the use of "CC Licences".

There are six standard CC licences, which are made of up "conditions" that dictate how the work can be used.

Although licences can have a mix of conditions there is one condition that applies to all licences:

that the owner of the work is attributed, which means you must include their name, a link to the source of the material and a link to the CC licence that applies to the original work.

Resources

Watch this video to learn more about how Creative Commons works.

What is the public domain?

The public domain could be understood as the exact opposite to copyright.

There, you will find works that were never protected by copyright or are no longer protected, allowing people to use these works freely, without needing permission from the original owner and without acknowledging the original creator or copyright holder of the work.

The idea undercutting the public domain is that after a certain time copyrighted works become public property, and should be able to be used by everyone.

What is considered to be public domain?

  • Artistic, literary, musical, dramatic works and subject-matter other than works that are no longer protected by copyright law.
  • Artistic, literary, musical, dramatic works and subject-matter other than works that were never protected by copyright law.

A comparison between copyright, Creative Commons and the public domain

Copyright - All rights reservedCreative Commons - Some rights reservedPublic domain - No rights reserved

Copyright logo - the letter c surrounded by a circle. Black on white.

Creative Commons logo - the letter c repeated twice surrounded by a circle. Black on white.

Public domain logo - the letter c surrounded by a circle with a diagonal line through it. Black on white.

Any work cannot be used, modified, copied or published without permission from the copyright holder.

All works are automatically protected under the Copyright Act from the moment it is created.

Any work can be used with permission and under certain conditions.

Copyright holder can determine the rules on how their materials can be used and express these easily to others.

Works can only be licensed under Creative Commons if the original owner does so, otherwise usual copyrights apply.

Permission for use cannot be revoked by the owner once given.

Any work can be used, modified, copied, published without permission from the original owner.

Any works that have never been or are no longer protected by copyright.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.