Most of us think we know a little bit about copyright but, as Alexander Pope (whose writings, you will be reassured to know, are now well and truly out of copyright) wrote, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”! While many of us create, use and enjoy copyright materials every day, there is widespread confusion about how copyright comes into being, how ownership is obtained and what copyright does and does not protect. Here are some of the more common myths, misconceptions and mistakes.
Copyright only applies to published, printed materials (such as books) and items like films, recordings and commercial software. In addition to protecting works of literature, music, drama and art, copyright covers many types of utilitarian materials that do not have ‘literary’ or ‘artistic’ qualities. For example, databases, business reports, diagrams, logos, spreadsheets, training materials, questionnaires and customised software may all be copyright protected. This is true even if they have not been ‘published’ in the traditional sense or broadly disseminated.
Copyright only comes into force once it is ‘registered’. Actually, in Australia there is no system for registering copyright. This stands in contrast with other types of intellectual property rights such as trade marks and patents. Copyright protection is automatic once a work is ‘in material form’ (e.g. reduced to writing or recorded on some other non-transitory medium). No registration or other formality is required.
There is no copyright unless copyright is claimed or the © symbol appears on a work. Again, this is not the case. There is no requirement to place the © symbol or other copyright notice (such as ‘Copyright 2008 ABC Pty Ltd’) on a work in order to enforce copyright in it. A work that does not bear these symbols may still be protected.
The Web is a copyright-free zone. A common misconception is that the Internet is ‘the public domain’. However, just because a work is in an electronic form does not mean that the owner has abandoned their copyright in it. Internet users should assume that their rights to use website materials are limited to viewing and use for private purposes, except where it is unambiguously clear from the site that wider use is permitted.
Once the author of a copyright work dies, the work is no longer protected. This is incorrect. In fact, copyright in most cases now extends for 70 years after the death of the work’s author.
If I make a few changes to material, I won’t infringe copyright and won’t need to get permission. This is a very common and dangerous myth. Copyright is infringed where a person reproduces a substantial part of a work without the permission of the copyright owner. What is ‘substantial’ is a a qualitative (not quantitative) determination that varies from case to case. (For example, in the past courts have held that 4 lines of a 32 line poem was a ‘substantial part’, and that a few bars of a tune, as they were a recognisable part of the song, were a substantial and therefore protectable part.)
For more information, please contact Jeremy Goldman, Principal Lawyer, on (03) 8600 8886 or email@example.com.
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