Copyright protects the original expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. This includes for example, the expression of ideas embodied in works of art, literature, music, films, broadcasts and computer programs. In Australia, it is not necessary to apply for copyright protection – copyright protection exists automatically from the moment an original work is created, irrespective of its aesthetic or creative merit.
Copyright protection is provided under the Copyright Act 1968 and gives exclusive rights to license others in regard to copying, publicly performing, broadcasting, publishing and making an adaptation of a work. Rights vary according to the nature of the work. Those for artistic works, for instance, are different to those for literary and musical works.
Although copying can infringe copyright, the Copyright Act includes specific, limited exemptions from infringement. For example, a certain amount of copying is permissible under ‘fair dealing’ provisions. Copyright does not protect a copyright owner from independent creation of a similar work.
Although it is not mandatory in Australia for copyright material to bear a copyright warning notice (or the copyright owner's name and date of creation of the copyright material) it can help prove your ownership of the copyright. It is also necessary to establish copyright ownership in some countries overseas. It can also act as a deterrent to potential infringers.
In Australia there is also some overlap between copyright and design law. For example, copyright in a three-dimensional artistic work is lost if the artistic work is applied industrially. In such a case, it is necessary to register the design if protection is required. However, copyright in associated material, such as the two-dimensional plans and specifications for the artistic work is not lost upon industrial application.
In Australia, the duration of copyright varies according to the nature of the work and whether or not it has been published. Over the years there have also been a number of amendments to the provisions of the Copyright Act that relate to duration of protection. As a result the date of creation or publication of the copyright work may also be relevant. However, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts 70 years from the year of the author's death or from the year of first publication after the author's death. Copyright for films and sound recordings lasts 70 years from their publication and for broadcasts, 70 years from the year in which they were made.
Most countries around the world are members of the Berne Copyright Convention and/or the Universal Copyright Convention. Australia is a member of both conventions. These conventions provide a high level of uniformity of copyright protection around the world, and reciprocal rights for nationals of member countries.