What is Copyright?

Copyright protects certain types of works from being copied or used without the copyright owner’s permission.

The copyright owner is usually the creator of a copyright work. Copyright is one of the most powerful rights you can have as a creator because it enables you to:

  • Control your work (e.g. how it is used, distributed or reproduced); and
  • Get money for your work.

A copyright owner can give permission to someone to use their copyright eg to photograph or reproduce it (known as a licence). A copyright owner can also transfer their copyright to someone else (known as an assignment).


What is protected by a Copyright? 

Copyright protection is provided under the Copyright Act 1968 and gives you exclusive rights to license others to do certain acts in relation to your work including copying it, broadcasting it, publishing it and making an adaptation of the work.

Copyright protects the form or way an idea or information is expressed, not the idea or information itself.

In the fashion industry, copyright can protect a range of works throughout the design to production lifecycle for a fashion item including:

  • original artistic works including sketches, patterns for clothing and fabric prints, which may be paintings or drawings or photographs applied to a textile in a repeated pattern
  • works of artistic craftsmanship like fashion items that are the works of a designer-maker such as sample garments, hand-printed fabric scarves, hats, belts and original pieces of jewellery;
  • literary works such as instruction text and descriptions of products and compilations.

Copyright protection is automatic and free and does not require registration. Copyright can be shown by the copyright symbol that looks like ©.

Copyright is not a tangible thing. It is made up of exclusive economic rights to use an original work. Copyright creators also have a number of non-economic rights. These are known as moral rights. More information on moral rights can be found here.

How Copyright Works

The moment an idea or creative concept is documented on paper or electronically it is automatically protected by copyright in Australia.

Although a copyright notice with the owner’s name and date is not necessary in Australia, it can help prove your ownership of the copyright. Using a copyright notice can also act as a deterrent to potential infringers.

Copyright doesn’t protect you against independent creation of a similar work. If two people independently create similar works based on the same idea or information, and neither is a copy of the other work, there is no issue of copyright infringement. For example, two artists may set up canvasses in the same spot and paint the same flower. Both artists would have copyright in their works and there would be no infringement of copyright providing the artists do not copy each other’s painting. Therefore, two very similar paintings of flowers can co-exist without any copyright infringement occurring.


The Copyright Myth

There is a common myth, that you can change someone else’s design by 10% and claim it as your own, without infringing copyright. This is not always true. There is no magic percentage.

Under copyright law, the general rule is you can’t use a substantial part of someone else’s material without their permission.


How Long Does Copyright Last?

Depending on the material, copyright for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts 70 years from the year of the author’s death or 70 years from the year of first publication after the author’s death.

Copyright for films and sound recordings lasts 70 years from their publication or 70 years from the year in which they were broadcast.