What is copyright infringement?

When you’re the owner of copyrighted material, it’s important that you know how to protect it. What is copyright infringement and you do you defend against it?

If you own copyrighted material you need to know what to do if it's infringed.

Whenever you're creating a new expression of an idea or concept, it's important you have the ability to protect that expression from being used by somebody else without permission. That, in essence, is the purpose of copyright law – to allow creators of new works the exclusive rights to that work's reproduction and distribution.

While copyright is the legal protection that gives creators rights around their works, sometimes those creator's rights aren't respected; that is, their copyright is infringed. This can be a costly problem, with the potential for lost revenue and/or reputational harm.

What is copyright?

Copyright is the legal protection of ideas and concepts as they are expressed. It's a free service that provides creators exclusive rights around their creations – most often for things like music, books, films, photographs – but it can protect basically any kind of creative expression. Copyright gives the creator of a work, among other things, the exclusive right to reproduce the work 

In Australia, the legislation that provides this protection is the Copyright Act 1968. The law is designed to protect the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself. It's a subtle distinction, but one that allows for others to create using ideas. It's not necessary to register for copyright in Australia, as it's automatically applied upon the creation of the work.

That said, it's important to be aware that copyright laws differ around the world in how the protection is given. In the United States, for instance, in some cases it can be wise to register for copyright, and this is something the expert team at Alder IP can assist you with.

Books are a common form of expression that's protected by copyright.Books are a common form of expression that's protected by copyright.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright gives creators of works the exclusive right to copy them. Unfortunately, these rights are sometimes ignored, and other parties will use and/or copy material that belongs to another without their permission.

Copyright gives creators of works the exclusive right to copy them

The cost to the copyright holder almost always depends on the severity of the infringement. If the holder makes money from selling their material, unauthorised free copies being available on the internet can hurt their revenues. This is one of the reasons internet piracy is so harmful – it makes it harder for creative people to thrive off their creations. Infringement can also cause more indirect harms, such as reputational damage. A common example of this is songs being used by politicians in election campaigns when the artist doesn't want to be associated with them. David Byrne, the ex-songwriter of rock band Talking Heads, successfully sued a Republican candidate for using his song 'Road to Nowhere' in a campaign video.

What can you do if someone is infringing your copyright?

While copyright law gives creators the exclusive right to copy their works, if infringement occurs, the copyright holder is the one that needs to enforce that right. That's why it's important to develop an infringement strategy – a set of principles that will outline how you'll respond to any violations of your intellectual property rights. The reason an infringement strategy is needed is because defending your copyright isn't free. There are costs associated with doing so, and depending on the scale of the infringement, you may find it's not worth pursuing legal action.

The best way to develop your infringement strategy is to work it through with expert legal advice. The team at Alder IP are experienced in all things intellectual property, and can help you determine cost-effective courses of action for any hypothetical infringement scenario.

The best way to develop an infringement strategy is to engage expert legal advice.The best way to develop an infringement strategy is to engage expert legal advice.

Are there cases where people can use your copyrighted material without permission?

Fair dealing is a defence against copyright infringement designed to balance the public interest with the rights of copyright holders. In instances of fair dealing, parts of your copyrighted material can sometimes be used without your permission. Under certain conditions, people can copy portions of your works if they're using them for:

  • Research or study.
  • Criticism or review.
  • Parody or satire.
  • Reporting news.
  • Providing professional advice.
  • Providing access to material for persons with a disability.

Are copyright laws set to change?

The Government is currently in the midst of a review of Australia's copyright laws. They're determining whether they need to be modernised, with the rise of digital technology making the distribution and copying of copyrighted material easier and quicker than ever before.

In particular, they'll be reviewing whether more flexible exceptions are needed, how better to provide access to orphan works (works whose creators aren't known) and the contracting out of exceptions. Whatever ends up happening, make sure to follow our blog for any updates that occur.

To learn more about how Alder IP can help you with any copyright concerns, get in touch with our team today to organise a free consultation.