Common Copyright Questions

The following information is for guidance only. It is not legal advice.

There are many misunderstandings and myths about copyright. Let’s dispel some!

How do I register my copyright?

Copyright is free and automatic and exists the moment you express your creation in material form (e.g.; draw a sketch on paper, paint a picture on canvas, record a video on a smartphone). There is no need to register copyright in Australia, get a signature from a lawyer or JP, or pay any fees to acquire copyright.

The Copyright Council is aware that there are websites that offer to “register” copyright in Australia upon the payment of registration fees. Such websites are based outside Australia and should be avoided as scams.

For further details, see our information sheet An Introduction to Copyright in Australia.

Can I use 10% of someone else’s work without permission?

If you use a “substantial part” of someone else’s material, you will need to either get permission or rely on a copyright exception. “Substantial part” is not a question of quantity, it’s a question of quality. If what you are using is the “important”, “essential”, or “distinctive” part of the original creation, it is a substantial part, even if proportionally it is less than 10%. As a good rule of thumb, if the amount you want to use can be easily recognised as coming from something else, it’s likely to be a substantial part.

Can I use someone else’s work without permission if I paraphrase or change it? 

Even if you change, paraphrase, or otherwise “transform” someone else’s material, if the amount you have used is a substantial part, then you will need to get permission or rely on a copyright exception.

Can I use someone else’s work without permission under fair use?

“Fair use” is a copyright exception used in other jurisdictions such as the United States and does not apply in Australia. In Australia, our copyright exceptions are known as fair dealing which works very differently to “fair use”.

For details on Australia’s copyright exceptions, see our information sheet Fair Dealing: What Can I Use Without Permission?

I’m not making a profit from using someone else’s work, do I still need permission?

There is no exception in the Copyright Act which allows use of copyright material just because the use is non-commercial or won’t make a profit.

Can I use someone’s work without permission so long as I credit them?

Creators have a legal right to be attributed for their work, however this is a matter of moral rights, not copyright. There is no general copyright exception that allows you to use people’s material just because you give them credit.

For further details on attributing creators, see our information Moral Rights.

I found this picture/video/article on the internet, so I can use it without permission, right?

Just because material is easily available online doesn’t mean it’s free to use. Copyright law applies on the internet just as it does offline, and there have been court cases where users have been held liable for taking pictures found online and using them without permission on their own website or other publications. Although there are situations where you can use material without asking first, this is usually within the context of an existing licence, so you should first check the terms and conditions and/or contact the copyright owner.

For further information on using online material, see our information sheets Internet: Copying & Downloading, Websites & Copyright, and Creative Commons Licences.

How do I get permission?

By contacting the copyright owner or their authorised representative. It is important to understand that the person who created the copyright material may not own the copyright in it—for example, although Marvel’s various superhero comics are created by individual writers and artists, Marvel Comics the corporate entity owns the copyright in those works, not the individual creators.

Depending on your need, you may be able to get permission from a collecting society. For example, if you want to perform a cover of a song you can contact APRA AMCOS, or if you want to make copies of an essay you can contact Copyright Agency. These collecting societies manage copyright material on behalf of their members and ensure that your payment for using copyright material is distributed to the artists and rightsholders as royalties.

For further information on permissions, see our information sheets Permission: Do I Need It?, Permission: How To Get It, and Copyright Collecting Societies.