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Copyright: An overview

Provides an overview on how Copyright applies in higher education, including Creative Commons and Open Access.

What material does copyright cover?

Copyright protects:

  • textual material (“literary works”) such as journal articles, novels, screenplays, poems, song lyrics and reports;
  • computer programs (a sub-category of “literary works”);
  • compilations (another sub-category of “literary works”) such as anthologies – the selection and arrangement of material may be protected separately from the individual items contained in the compilation;
  • artistic works such as paintings, drawings, cartoons, sculpture, craft work, architectural plans, buildings, photographs, maps and plans;
  • dramatic works such as choreography, screenplays, plays and mime pieces;
  • musical works: that is, the music itself, separately from any lyrics or recording;
  • cinematograph films: the visual images and sounds in a film, video or DVD are protected separately from any copyright in works recorded on the film or video, such as scripts and music;
  • sound recordings: the particular recording itself is protected by copyright, in addition to, for example, the music or story that is recorded;
  • broadcasts: TV and radio broadcasters have a copyright in their broadcasts, which is separate from the copyright in the films, music and other material which they broadcast; and
  • published editions: publishers have copyright in their typographical arrangements, which is separate from the copyright in works reproduced in the edition (such as poems or illustrations or music).


Reference: Australian Copyright Council. Information Sheet G010v18: An Introduction to Copyright in Australia. Retrieved from

Using copyright protected works

Usually the copyright owner must give permission for someone to use their work; and they may also charge a royalty.

However, copyright law makes certain ‘exceptions’ where neither permission nor payment is required. The most relevant exception for undergraduate students is‘Fair Dealing' for Research and Study.

This provision allows you to copy a ‘reasonable portion’ of a work without having to ask permission from the copyright owner, or having to pay any royalty fee, if it is for your studies.

  • Whilst you can rely on Fair Dealing to incorporate audio-visual works in your assignments, these must not be put online, or submitted for competitions or festivals.
  • The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) also provides the licences that allow educational institutions to use copyright protected works for educational purposes.
  • Readings (in print or online) supplied to you by the University are protected by copyright and/or licences – whilst you can download a copy for your own reading, they must not be copied and passed on to anyone else.

What is a ‘reasonable portion’ that I can copy?

A reasonable portion is:

  • 10% of the pages or 1 chapter of a book*
  • 1 article from any one issue of a journal or newspaper;
  • 2 or more articles from the one issue if they’re all for the same research or course of study.
  • a work of fewer than 15 pages from an anthology

* eBooks: you should be able to copy at least a reasonable portion of an eBook; their terms of use may allow more, so check each one for the specific amount permitted. More information on how you can print, copy, or download from eBooks can be found in the Instructional Guide: eBooks.

Are there any exceptions to the ‘reasonable portion’ limits?

Yes - under the following circumstances:

  • If copyright has expired in the book you can copy as much as you like (see Duration of Copyright link)
  • If the book is out of print – please contact the Library if you think this may be the case
  • In special cases (flexible dealing) for educational institutions where the use is not covered by other specific exceptions in the Copyright Act (see Section 200AB information sheets for more information)