The State Library of Queensland has provided information on copyright to help you better understand how you may use material that you find on our website.

Content on our website and blogs

Material published on this website and our blogs, including information, text, images, sounds and audiovisual material, is protected by copyright and, where applicable, moral and cultural rights.

All of the text published on this website is licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence. Under the terms of this licence you may distribute, remix and build upon the text from the site, but you must attribute The Edge, State Library of Queensland as the source of the information.

You may use other material on State Library websites for the purposes of private study, research, and criticism and review without permission. We ask that you acknowledge The Edge, State Library of Queensland when you use material from our website. This material may not be reproduced or re-used for any commercial purpose whatsoever without written permission of the copyright holder. Enquiries about the use of material on the State Library of Queensland’s websites should be directed to:

Copyright Officer
State Library of Queensland
P.O. Box 3488
South Brisbane 4101

Fax: 07 3840 7873
Phone: 07 3840 7666


General copyright information

This information has been developed by the National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA) as an information guide for library users about copyright in library collections. You can obtain a printable copy of this information from the NSLA website.

This information on copyright does not constitute legal advice. Rather it is intended to provide information and guidance on copyright and copying material in library collections.

About copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that gives copyright owners the right to control certain activities with their works. These activities include copying and, depending on the type of work, publication, performance, adaptation and communicating the work to the public (for example, by making it available online). If you are not the owner of copyright, you risk infringing copyright if you perform one of these exclusive acts without obtaining the permission of the copyright owner. Copyright must therefore be considered when you obtain or create copies of items from the Library’s collection.

The duration of copyright in published materials is generally 70 years from the death of the creator, or (for sound recordings and films) from the date of publication. For unpublished materials, the duration may be even longer.

Why do we have a copyright system?

There are a number of explanations for why we have a copyright system, including that it:

  • provides an important incentive for the creation and distribution of intellectual and creative works; and,
  • rewards authors for the fruits of their labours.

What types of works does copyright cover?

Copyright applies to many different types of works, including:

  • Architectural plans
  • Art works
  • Books, newspapers and periodicals
  • Broadcasts (both sound and television)
  • Choreographic shows
  • Compilations and databases
  • Computer games
  • Design drawings and plans
  • Diaries and letters
  • Films
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Musical scores
  • Photographs
  • Plays
  • Published editions
  • Screenplays and scripts
  • Software
  • Song lyrics
  • Sound recordings
  • Websites

In Australia, copyright applies to both published and unpublished works, and protection is automatic as long as certain basic requirements are met. That is, there is no copyright registration process and an individual does not need to claim copyright by including the copyright symbol and their name on a work (such as © Author Name 2010). Copyright is not dependent on aesthetic or literary merit and can protect materials that are utilitarian, short and/or mundane.

Which copyright law applies?

In Australia, copyright law, including all amendments, is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth). Australian copyright law applies to any copying done in Australia, even if the owner of copyright in the work you are copying is a citizen of another country. This is because there are reciprocal arrangements between countries which mean that copyright in foreign works is also recognised in Australia (and vice versa).If you are not located in Australia and you are copying digitised content from the Library’s website, you must follow the copyright law of the country in which you reside.

Who owns copyright?

The default rule in the Copyright Act is that copyright in a work is owned by its creator or maker. However, this basic position can be changed in various ways. Copyright owners can transfer their copyright, for example where an author assigns copyright to a publisher. If a creator made the work as part of their job, the employer will generally own copyright. Similarly, for some commissioned items, the commissioner is deemed to be the copyright owner. If a copyright owner dies, their copyright forms part of their estate and can therefore be bequeathed by will. The relevant government owns copyright in works made by, or under the direction or control of, an Australian federal or state government agency.

Significantly, the Library does not own copyright in most of the material in its collections. Copyright ownership is distinct from physical ownership. For example, even though the Library may own a painting or manuscript, the Library does not necessarily have the right to provide you with a copy of it. In some cases we can, however, provide information that may help you contact a copyright owner to arrange permissions to copy and use material.

It is possible for more than one copyright to exist in a single item. For example in a music CD, the composer may own copyright in the music, the lyricist in the words, a photographer in a photo used on the cover, and a production company in the way the music was recorded. It is also possible to have more than one owner of a single copyright, for instance when two or more individuals act as co-authors of a book.

How long does copyright last?

For literary, dramatic and musical works that were published during the lifetime of the author, copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. For published sound recordings and films, the duration of copyright is 70 years from the end of the year in which the recording or film was published. Where such items remain unpublished, the copyright term may not commence until publication takes place. In contrast, for artistic works, copyright lasts for the life of the artist plus seventy years, and publication status is irrelevant.

What are moral rights?

Australian copyright law sets out a separate and additional set of rights called moral rights. Moral rights give certain creators and performers the right:

  • to have their authorship or performership attributed to them;
  • not to have their work falsely attributed to someone else; and
  • not to have their work treated in a derogatory way.

Moral rights should always be considered if you are re-using and altering works (for example, through editing, cropping or colourising) and you should ensure that attributions are clear and reasonably prominent.

Moral rights generally last until the copyright in the work expires. Moral rights cannot be transferred or waived, although creators can provide written consents to acts that would otherwise infringe their moral rights. Furthermore, there are defences to moral rights infringement, for instance, where the infringing act is reasonable in all the circumstances.


Determine whether a copyright permission is necessary

It is your responsibility to determine whether the work you want to copy requires copyright permission. Permission from the copyright owner may be necessary where:

  • the material you wish to copy is protected by copyright;
  • your copying is not insubstantial; and,
  • your copying does not fall within an exception in the Copyright Act.

To determine the copyright status of the work you want to copy, we suggest that you first try searching for the work in the Library’s catalogue to see if there is a rights statement for that specific work.

When you are determining whether permission is required, do not forget that multiple copyrights can subsist in the same item. This includes, for instance, where a book includes photographs or illustrations that have separate copyright from the text, potentially requiring you to obtain more than one permission.

If in doubt, it may be best to assume that a work is in copyright and that you need to get permission.

Get permission

If permission is required, you will need to find the copyright owner. To help protect yourself against legal action, you should seek to obtain the copyright owner’s permission in writing before you copy the work. The copyright owner has the right to refuse you permission, to set conditions and/or to ask you to pay a fee for permission.

If you need the Library to undertake the copying for you, and your request does not fall within an exception in the Copyright Act, a Library staff member will need to see evidence of the copyright owner’s permission before the copy is made.

Adhere to moral rights

You also have a responsibility to ensure that your copying of a work does not infringe moral rights. For instance, you should credit the work using the author(s) preferred form(s) of attribution. If the author is not known, then ‘author unknown’ is an appropriate description. ‘Anonymous’ should be used where the author intended not to be identified. In no circumstances should you credit the work to someone else or to yourself. You should not treat the work in a derogatory way.

What happens if I infringe copyright?

In cases of copyright infringement, it is usual for the copyright owner to contact the alleged infringer to explain the nature of their complaint. Many disputes are resolved at this stage, and pointing to your good faith may help in such negotiations. However, if you do infringe copyright, the owner has the right to sue you, and a court may order a variety of remedies. Under current law, it is no defence that you did not know you were infringing copyright or that you used reasonable efforts to locate the copyright owner. That said the Copyright Act also makes certain activities a criminal offence.

What can I copy without the copyright owner’s permission?

You do not need to obtain any permissions where:

  • the item was never protected by copyright;
  • copyright has been waived; or,
  • copyright has expired.

In addition, Australian copyright law allows you to copy in-copyright material in certain circumstances. The provisions of the Copyright Act that set out these circumstances are known as exceptions. If an exception applies, you do not need to ask the copyright owner for permission to undertake acts within its scope.

For example, the fair dealing exceptions can apply where you copy material for the purpose of research, study, criticism, review, parody, satire, reporting the news, or giving legal advice. The Copyright Act expressly states that certain acts constitute fair dealings, such as copying up to 10 per cent or one chapter of a book, or copying one article, for research or study. However in other cases, you will need to consider the elements of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright Act. There are also exceptions which allow some copying by cultural and educational institutions and on behalf of people with print or intellectual disabilities. These are particularly relevant where you ask the library to reproduce collection material and supply a copy to you.

To make a copy, do I need the library’s permission as well as the copyright owner’s permission?

If you copy items from the Library’s collections without seeking any additional permission from us, you accept the responsibility to make sure you do not infringe copyright or moral rights, as set out in the section on ‘Your responsibilities’. If you ask the Library to do the copying for you, you will be asked to complete paperwork that confirms that either the permission of the copyright owner has been obtained or no such permission is necessary (for instance because an exception applies).

Some collection items may have access restrictions that require permission from the Library before you copy them. This permission does not relate to any copyright in the item, but relates to collection management issues, such as the need to ensure that fragile items are handled with care.

We sometimes ask you to seek this permission because we need to check whether any special restrictions apply to the works. A special restriction may apply, for example, because we agreed to a request by a collection donor that they retain control of copying for a certain period, even though they may not own copyright in the works they donated. These restrictions are often requested because the material contains private or sensitive information.

Copying digitised material from the Library’s collections

You may find digital copies of items from the Library’s collections, such as photographs or recorded interviews on the Library’s website. Where this material is out of copyright it may be freely and we ask that you acknowledge the Library and the creator.

Use of digital copies of in-copyright material requires a request for permission unless your use falls within one of the exceptions, such as research or study. You need to ask the Library’s permission because a copyright owner may have allowed us to put a copy on our website but not allowed us to authorise uses beyond research or study. When you ask us for permission to copy the material, we will tell you whether copyright or any other restrictions apply.

Finding copyright owners

Finding copyright owners for published material

Published material is works where reproductions have been supplied to the public, such as books, newspapers, magazines, most maps, commercially-made music CDs, and television broadcasts.

To work out who owns copyright in a work, look for a copyright statement on the work. It will often look like this: © John Smith 2009. On books, the copyright statement often appears on the back of the title page. If you cannot find the name of the copyright owner that way, check the record in the Library’s catalogue.

For books and other published works, we suggest you first try contacting the publisher. Publishers are easier to find than authors, and if the author is the copyright owner, the publisher may be able to give you the author’s contact details or forward your request to them.

You may be able to find the publisher through the Australian Publishers Association. Another useful resource is Margaret Gee’s Australian Media Guide. There are a number of online directories for overseas publishers such as the Publishers Directory maintained by Publishers Global. If you wish to contact an author directly, the Australian Society of Authors may be able to help.

Finding copyright owners for unpublished material

Unpublished material can include architectural plans; art works; diaries, letters and other manuscripts; hand-drawn maps and music scores; oral history sound recordings; and photographs. If you wish to find the copyright owner of an unpublished work in the Library’s collection, please contact the Library. We may be able to provide you with the copyright owner’s contact details. There are separate procedures and resources for contacting custodians of Indigenous cultural content.

Agencies that represent copyright owners

Instead of contacting the copyright owner directly, you may wish to contact an agency that represents copyright owners. These agencies can authorise you, on behalf of the copyright owner, to copy, perform or broadcast a work, usually for a fee. Some examples are the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) for books, essays and articles; Viscopy for visual works; and APRA/AMCOS for music.

What if the copyright owner is hard to trace?

It may be difficult to find a copyright owner, especially when copyright has passed to heirs or copyright was owned by a company that has gone out of business. To find heirs named in an Australian creator’s will, contact the Probate Division of the Supreme Court in the State where the creator died. To find information about what happened to the assets (copyright is an asset) of an Australian company which has gone out of business, try the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

If you are unable to identify or locate a copyright owner, you will need to decide whether you are willing to proceed with your proposed use, and hence risk infringing copyright. For instance, some people decide to proceed, but with a statement inviting copyright owners to come forward if they believe their material has been reproduced. If you decide to follow this course, it may be wise to keep detailed records of your attempts to clear rights, and to speak with a lawyer about your exposure to risk. Under the current law, the fact that you have made good faith attempts to identify and contact the copyright owner does not protect you from legal action under the Copyright Act.

Copying works with Indigenous cultural content

Although copyright law applies to Indigenous works in the same way as it applies to other works, Indigenous works may have additional legal and cultural issues, for instance because they include secret or sacred information, or information obtained without the consent of the relevant Indigenous people. As such, the Library has developed policies for its Indigenous collections. One of these is that you may be required to seek cultural clearances from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, families, individuals or organisations before you access or reproduce some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material. Should cultural clearances be required, the Library will assist you to understand the process involved in meeting your obligations to consult with Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

Useful links

The law

For the current version of the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth) go to:

The current version of the Copyright Act includes all changes made by amending legislation, such as the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000, the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Act 2000, the relevant parts of the US Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act 2004, and the Copyright Amendment Act 2006. There is generally no need to look at any of these amending acts.

For an overview of the Copyright Act see the Attorney-General’s Department’s Copyright page:

Collecting societies and other ways to find copyright owners

  • Through Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) you can pay for a licence to copy certain books, articles, essays and artwork:
  • Through Viscopy you can pay for a licence to copy the works of some Australian artists, craftspeople and photographers:
  • Through Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS) you can pay for a licence to copy, perform or broadcast certain music:
  • Through Screenrights, educational institutions and government agencies can pay for a licence to copy or broadcast certain film, television and radio productions:
  • Through Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) you can pay for a licence to broadcast some recorded music or perform it in public:
  • Through the Australian Publishers Association website you can find links to around 185 Australian publishers:
  • On the Publishers Global website you can find publishers listed by country. It has links to publishers in around 55 countries, including links to around 420 Australian publishers:
  • The Firms Out of Business (FOB) database lists some of the international publishing firms, magazines, literary agencies and similar organisations that are no longer in existence:
  • The Australian Society of Authors has a list of Australian authors with links to their individual web pages:
  • The WATCH database is a useful source for contact details of international writers:
  • The Australian Copyright Council provides an information sheet on ways to contact government agencies to get permission to copy their material:

Organisations with expertise in copyright and other intellectual property rights