Copyright overview for undergraduates and coursework postgraduates


NB for students taking courses outside Australia: you are subject to the copyright laws of the country in which you are studying – however, much of the legislation is similar to that of Australia, and you will still be expected to abide by the terms of the University’s own policies in respect of copyright, IP, and the use of electronic resources in general

Copyright overview


definitions & description

what this means for you


Copyright is the legal system intended to balance the requirements of both creators and users of ‘works’. 

It asserts and protects the creator’s ownership of their work, and allows everyone else to make certain uses of the work without infringing that ownership.

Even if you don’t see the copyright symbol – © – you must assume that the work is protected by copyright. 

You may find a provision in the Copyright Act that lets you use the work in certain circumstances, or you may need the copyright owner’s permission to use their work.

a 'work'

A ‘work’ is the material expression of ideas, concepts, and facts; almost anything that you can think of in terms of writing or other types of creation is a ‘work’:
•    texts: books, magazine articles, emails, blogs, poems, pdfs and other files, recipes, websites and their content, etc.;
•    images: photographs, paintings, maps, cartoons, memes, jpegs, etc.; and
•    music, films, software, television programs, vlogs, sculptures, etc., etc., etc.

You may also see the terms ‘materials’ and ‘content’, ‘intellectual property’ used instead of ‘work’.

If you didn’t create the work yourself, it is known as a ‘third party work’.

There is no copyright protection for ideas, concepts, or facts: it is the particular expression that is protected, whether as a song, a novel, a diagram, etc.

the copyright owner's 'exclusive rights'

Only the copyright owner may
•    copy their work;
•    distribute it;
•    communicate it (by email, on the net, or by broadcasting it);
•    perform it; and
•    adapt it.

The author has the Moral Right to be named, even if the copyright in their work is transferred to someone else, or is owned by an employer.

Copyright protection is automatic: as soon as a work takes material form – written, recorded, painted, etc. – it is protected.  You should assume that everything you find online, in a book, newspaper, magazine, etc. is protected by copyright.

Although the creator is usually the first copyright owner, copyright can be sold and transferred.

Copyright may be owned by an employer if the work has been created as part of an employee’s duties.

unit readings and other study materials

All of your teaching and learning materials are copyright protected, third party ‘works’: book chapters and journal articles on your unit reading list, audio-visual content, and everything else - the unit study guide, your Unit Coordinator’s lecture notes, quizzes and exam questions (and answers), slide presentations and the text and images used in them, recorded lectures, another student’s essay

Although the University has the right to use these materials for teaching – usually by paying for a licence, or because they own the copyright – you do not have the right to use them in any other context: in particular, you do not have the right to upload any of these materials to ‘note-sharing’ sites such as Course Hero, StuDocu, etc.; doing so means you will be infringing copyright and/or breaching other licences or contracts, which may have legal repercussions.

fair dealing for research and study

Fair Dealing for research & study is the Copyright Act’s provision that allows you to copy a chapter from a book, or articles from a journal without having to ask permission from the copyright owner if they are for your studies or research.

You can also copy text, images, and audio-visual materials, as well as online content, to include in an assignment; remember that, whatever its source, everything you use must be referenced.

You must not submit an assignment for a competition or a festival or put it online if you have relied on Fair Dealing to include third party material in it.

If you think that you may want to enter your work for a festival or upload it to a website, or perform it in public, you could look for Creative Commons licensed third party content: these licences give you much broader terms of use than Fair Dealing – you could also consider asking the copyright owner for permission to use their work.

fair dealing for access by persons with a disability

If you have a disability that causes you difficulty in reading, viewing, hearing or comprehending copyright materials the Copyright Act’s provision Fair Dealing for access by persons with a disability enables you to copy works into the format and with the specific features you require if they are not available commercially.  

Another provision permits the University, and other organisations, to copy and reformat copyright materials if they are not available commercially with the features that you require. 

Contact the Equity Office  (ph: 08 9360 6084) for more information about acquiring copyright materials in the format(s) that you require, and to register for the EQAL program.

 Once you have registered with Equity, you will be eligible for the Library’s specialised  services and facilities.

using text & images from the internet

The internet is not a copyright-free zone: you should assume that everything you find online is protected by copyright. 

You can rely on the Fair Dealing for Research & Study provision to copy images from websites, but remember that this only applies to using them in an assignment – not in any other context – and they must be referenced.

Check for ‘copyright information’ or ‘terms of use’ statements on websites; very often they will give you permission to download copies of articles etc. for ‘personal, non-commercial’ purposes, such as studying.

If you see one of these icons,      , the site is giving you an implicit licence to download the relevant document.

Other sites use Creative Commons licences to show users what they can do with the content: Creative Commons icons look like this   and the permissions they grant are much broader than terms of use such as ‘personal, non-commercial’.

referencing third party works
aka citing, attributing, or acknowledging

It is good academic practice, as well as a legal requirement of the Copyright Act’s Moral Rights, to identify any third party work that you use: usually this means stating the author, book title, publisher, etc. but may also include a URL, for instance. 

The Library has a Referencing page to help you use the correct information and format for your references.

Your own work: essays, lecture notes, exam answers, etc.

You own copyright in your work if you are the sole author.

You may upload it to ‘note-sharing’ sites such as Course Hero: but this applies only to lecture or tutorial notes that you have written yourself, essays that you have written yourself (with no third party content), photographs that you have taken yourself, etc. 

If you want to upload a group assignment to a note-sharing site like Course Hero you must have a signed agreement from the other students, because you all share copyright ownership.  

Be aware that you are putting yourself at risk of identity theft if your name and student i.d. can be seen on, for instance, an assignment cover sheet that you upload to a note-sharing site.








Your work as part of a team

Works such as films have many layers of copyright applying to the script, music, staging, choreography, costumes, performances etc.  In order to best protect all those layers, the University will usually manage the overall copyright as Producer of the work.

See the University’s Intellectual Property Regulations for more information about the relationship between students and the University in dealing with copyright ownership and licensing.