What is protected?

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) divides material that can have copyright protection into two broad classes:

  • Works: artistic, musical, literary and dramatic works [see sections 31 – 83]; and
  • Subject matter other than works: sound recordings, film, television and sound broadcasts and published editions of works [see sections 84 – 113].

To be protected, material must fall within one of these categories. As is evident in the examples listed below, there is no requirement that works should be artistic or literary in any sense.

Listed below are some examples of material that falls within these categories:

Literary works: the term ‘literary’ is somewhat misleading. Whilst it can and does include items such as novels and poems it also includes (as defined in section 10(1)) tables or compilations expressed in words, figures or symbols as well as computer programs.

Examples of items that have been found to be literary works are:

  • poems
  • books (fiction and non-fiction)
  • articles
  • short stories
  • song lyrics
  • rules of games
  • instruction manuals
  • catalogues
  • computer programs
  • tables
  • examination papers
  • advertisements
  • reports
  • other forms of writing (with the exception of trivial expressions, such as slogans)

Diverse items such as bingo results, lists of football matches, instructions on seed packets and a catalogue of motorcycle parts have also been found to be literary works.

Dramatic works: includes plays, film scripts and scenarios (but not the film itself – see section 10(1)) and other works intended to be performed, such as choreographic works.

Musical works: these are not defined under the Copyright Act 1968 but they include musical scores and combinations of melody and/or harmony. As with literary works the term ‘musical’ reflects the method of production rather than the artistic merit of the work. This means that any combination of sounds and noises which are capable of being fixed in a form (whether by notation or as a recording) are defined as musical works.

Songs are made up of two kinds of copyright material: the lyrics (a literary work) and the musical work.

Artistic works: are defined extensively in section 10(1) but the definition of ‘artistic’ is once again a comment on the form the work takes rather than its aesthetic or creative merit. They include:

  • paintings
  • sculptures
  • engravings
  • photographs
  • maps
  • drawings (such as sketches, architectural drawings, dress patterns, and technical drawings)
  • building or models of buildings
  • works of artistic craftsmanship (such as work by silversmiths, potters, woodworkers, and hand-embroiderers)

Films (referred to as cinematograph films under section 10(1)): They include:

  • motion pictures (such as documentaries, feature and animated films)
  • television programs
  • video tapes, video cassettes, DVDs and other fixed or recorded sequences of visual images
  • commercials
  • video clips
  • musical scores and sounds accompanying images in cinematograph films
  • visual images and sounds in interactive multi-media video games

Sound recordings: are defined as a collection of sounds captured on a record (this includes discs, tapes or other media used to capture sound). The definition is very broad and includes:

  • vinyl discs
  • compact discs
  • digital audio tapes
  • reel to reel tapes
  • audio tapes and casettes
  • other fixed or recorded sounds (e.g. taped interviews)

Sound and television broadcasts:  includes radio and television broadcasts, that is, the signals of sounds and/or images transmitted by the broadcaster.

Published editions of works: in the case of published editions the publisher's typesetting and layout of the edition is what is being protected by copyright.

Some things such as films, sound recordings, and anthologies may contain a number of separate copyrights. For instance, a film is protected in its own right and may also contain a number of underlying works such as a script and music. This material may be owned by different people, and the copyright may expire at different times.

See also Who owns copyright? and Duration of copyright.

What is protected?  :  Last Revised: Wed Dec 10th 2014
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