Copyright for Researchers: Copyright Basics

Copyright for VU researchers

Key points

1. The common element of protected works is that they have been created through human effort. 

2. Even if copyright does not subsist in an object (such as a car or toaster), it may subsist in an underlying representation of the object, such as a design drawing, a pattern, a prototype or a written application.

3. The author of a work is the person who wrote or produced the relevant expression or put an idea into a tangible form. 

Types of works protected by copyright

The list of protected material can be divided into two groups.  The first group includes 'works' such as:

  • literary (this covers text, including questionnaires and surveys)
  • dramatic,
  • musical and
  • artistic works (this includes images, buildings or models,maps illustrations and diagrams)

The second group is made up of 'subject matter, such as:

  • sound recordings
  • films
  • sound and television broadcasts
  • published editions

There is a tricky area of 'works of craftmanship' which can be:

  • 'a manifestation of pride in sound workmanship and the result of the exercise of skill on the parts of its creator in using the materials of which the article is made and the devices by which those materials are turned into an article': Coogi Australia v Hysport International.


IP and Copyright

Intellectual Property (IP)

  • is a broad term that describes the laws which protect certain products of peoples’ imagination and creativity
  • is intangible property
  • is an ‘economic’ right

The main forms of IP include:

  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Designs
  • Trade marks
  • Circuit layouts
  • New plant varieties
  • Confidential information

Victoria University’s  Intellectual Property Regulations provide the framework for management of intellectual property at Victoria University.

Copyright Law

This law gives a legal framework for the use and management of a range of works, including text, artistic works, dramatic works, musical works, films, broadcasts and published editions. Copyright gives the owner exclusive rights to:

  • reproduce
  • publish in print or electronic form
  • perform the work in public, and
  • communicate to the public and adapt or modify their work.  This includes emailing.

As the copyright owner, you can transfer any or all of these rights to users or a third party. Generally copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator or 70 years after the first publication of a manuscript.

For research and study purposes you can rely on the 'fair dealing' exception which allows you to copy a "reasonable amount", namely one chapter or 10% of a work and reproduction of images for your private use.  This exception does not apply when you publish your work; in that case permission is required to use works protected by copyright.

Victoria University's Copyright Policy provides a framework for university staff and students for using third-party copyright material for educational and research purposes.

General information about copyright can be found at the Australian Copyright Council. The ACC provides Factsheets on a range of topics such as Copyright and Research, Moral rights, Duration and the law regarding use of third party copyright (for example, using quotations) or using material such as logos etc.

Moral Rights

These are rights linked to copyright but are not transferable to another person or body. Only individual copyright owners can have moral rights (corporations or organisations cannot have moral rights). In addition moral rights:

  • are personal legal rights belonging to the creators of copyright works and cannot be transferred, assigned or sold.
  • ensure that the creators of works are correctly attributed for their work.
  • ensure the works are not treated in a derogatory way.

General information about moral rights can be found at the Australian Copyright Council

Author or owner of work

The original creator of a work is called the “author” although in the common vernacular the word is used to identify the person who wrote something such as a book, paper or article. In copyright law the term is used to identify the creator of any work. For example, a sculptor, artist or photographer would be an “author” of their work.

The author of a work is the original copyright owner unless the rights are assigned elsewhere.

“If copyright is assigned or transferred to a second person or entity, that person does not become the author, merely the new rights holder. The original author always retains that status or description”

(Copyright for Librarians, (n.d.), Creative Commons licence).

This means an owner of a work, such as the publisher is not always the author.  An author must be attributed for their work - see the notes on Moral Rights above.

If you look at Victoria University's Intellectual Property Regulations you will note that there are several categories of ownership

  • employee
  • student
  • researcher