The right to control the copying of your own work – whether it be a piece of writing, a computer programme, music, art or film – is protected under copyright and intellectual property law.

Contributor

Margaret Ryan

Lawyer and Trade Marks Attorney

Exclusive rights of copyright holders

Last updated

1 July 2021

Some rights of copyright holders vary according to the type of material involved.

Literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works (s 31 Copyright Act)

Right to reproduce the work

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to reproduce the work, or a substantial part of it (s 14 Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (‘Copyright Act’)), in material form. Reproducing the work means using it to make a similar, but not necessarily identical, work. This right applies to all types of works.

Converting a work into or from a digital or other machine-readable form is reproduction of the work (s 21(1A) Copyright Act). So is the conversion of a computer program from source code to object code, or vice versa, including by the process of compilation or decompilation (s 21(5)).

Right to publish the work

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to publish a work. ‘To publish’ means to supply repro­ductions of the work to the public, by sale or otherwise (s 29(1)(a) Copyright Act). This right applies to all types of works. Publication does not need to be on a commercial scale.

Right to perform the work in public

The owner of copyright is the only person permitted to perform the work in public. This right applies to literary, dramatic or musical works only.

Performance includes any method of presentation, including live performance, or the use of a recording or film. Communication (i.e. online or electronic transmission) is not a public performance (s 27(2) Copyright Act); although, receiving a transmission (e.g. a radio broadcast) and playing the radio in public can be.

Any performance given to members of the public is a performance in public, unless it is of a private or domestic nature.

Right to make an adaptation of the work

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to make an adaptation of the work. This right applies to literary, dramatic and musical works.

Section 10(1) of the Copyright Act provides that an adaptation of a literary work means:

  • if the work is not in dramatic form, a version in dramatic form;
  • if the work is in dramatic form, a version in non-dramatic form;
  • a version of a computer program that is not a reproduction of that program;
  • a translation of a literary work into another language; or
  • a version in which the story or action is conveyed solely or principally by pictures.

An adaptation of a musical work is an arrangement or transcription of it.

The copyright owner also has the exclusive right to reproduce an adaptation of the work, publish the adaptation, perform the adaptation in public, or communicate it to the public.

Right to enter into a commercial rental arrangement

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to enter into a commercial rental agreement. This is the right to supply the work on a temporary basis in the course of a business for payment. This right applies to computer programs, and to works embodied in sound recordings.

Right to communicate to the public

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to communicate the work to the public. This applies to all types of works.

This means to make the work available online (e.g. on a website) or to transmit the work electronically (e.g. broadcasting or streaming online). It does not include the distribution of the work in a tangible form.

‘To the public’ means the public within or outside Australia (s 10(1) Copyright Act). This means that an Australian copyright owner can control the work’s communication from Australia to overseas audiences.

The creation of a copy of a work when it is downloaded onto a device in Australia involves the reproduction right, not the right of communication (see ‘Right to reproduce the work’, above).

Sound recordings and films (ss 85, 86 Copyright Act)

Right to make a copy of the sound recording or film

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to make a copy of the sound recording or film. The copy must reproduce the actual sounds or images contained in the sound recording or film, not merely resemble them.

As a result, a shot-by-shot remake of a film does not infringe the copyright in the original film (although it may infringe the copyright of the original film’s screenplay).

Right to cause the sound recording or film to be heard or seen in public, or to communicate it to the public

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to cause the sound recording or film to be heard or seen in public or to communicate it to the public. These rights are discussed under ‘Literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works (s 31 Copyright Act)’, above.

Right to enter a commercial rental arrangement

The copyright owner is the only person permitted to enter into a commercial rental agreement. This right applies to sound recordings, but not to films.

For more information, see ‘Right to enter into a commercial rental agreement’ in ‘Literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works (s 31 Copyright Act)’ above.

Television and sound broadcasts (s 87 Copyright Act)

The copyright owner of a television or sound broadcast has the exclusive right to make a film or recording of the broadcast, or a copy of such a film or recording, and to rebroadcast the broadcast.

Published editions (s 88 Copyright Act)

The owner of the copyright in a published edition of a work has the exclusive right to make a facsimile copy (i.e. an exact copy) of the edition.

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