In the Technology Age, quality content is produced daily. With the potential to monetize creative works across a multitude of social media and distribution platforms, the risk exposure and liabilities associated with Intellectual Property rights are increasingly important.
There are many different types of intellectual property rights and laws that protect intellectual property, and these are governed by acts of Parliament that address the specifics of these rights. The most basic, albeit fundamental, right that protect your creative works is that of Copyright, most easily recognized by the small © found at the bottom of websites, magazines, DVD covers and other forms of distributed media. What’s less commonly known is how these rights are created, protected and enforced.
Firstly and foremost, you do not need to register any document, instrument or sign any agreement to create a Copyright. Rather it is a right that is inferred upon the creation of a thing, within the requirements of the law. Additionally, the small © Copyright symbol does not require any certification or approval. Instead, it is intended to publicly affirm the existence of a copyright, which in turn creates a grounds for action or claim should a person or a corporation breach the Copyright rules in spite of the declaration. The work in question must usually be original, and certain classes of works must be produced in Australia to be subject to Australian IP law. It’s important to consider the nature of the work to be protected when enforcing or addressing rights under Copyright law, as there may be specific requirements associated with that work or medium.
Importantly, however, Copyright does not protect ideas; rather, it protects the completed expression of an idea. In this fundamental respect it differs from a Patent, Design or Trademark. Each instance of Copyright is a distinct and separate collection of legal rights, which exist independently of each other. The exhaustion or expiration of a Copyright does not affect the rights of other works, though they may be similar or derived from the same source idea. Comparatively, Patents and Trademarks protect a design, concept or idea. The benefit however, that each expression of a trademark or pattern derives its rights and legal protection from a single source. These rights must be registered, and have categories of their own, and are necessitated by the types of media that they protect. An idea that is not protected by Patent or Design law is not ordinarily subject to Copyright law as it is very difficult to prove an idea is novel and unique, which is why a system of registration has been created specifically to allow persons who have created a unique idea to step forward and protect their rights. It is ordinarily considered that if an idea is so novel and unique such that it has a commercial and profitable application, there is an expectation that the original creator of the idea would be compelled to register and protect their interests, and therefore the first registration of the idea is prima facie considered to be done so by the inventor, subject to the principles of Intellectual Property Law.
Another important fact to consider is the difference between an author and a copyright holder. Though an individual may be an author of original works, if they produce it during the course of their employment as an employee, then their employer is the copyright holder. This is usually the case with registered trademarks and patents as well, and though an inventor will be credited with the creation of a design or idea, the rights to that intellectual property is owned by the organisation or employer of the inventor. There is a clear distinction between the creator or inventor of an idea, and the owner of an idea.
The owner of a copyright has certain benefits and privileges associated with those rights that they may exercise exclusively, such as the right to create a profit from the works, to publish or broadcast, to adapt or modify, or to rent or licence the works either for remuneration or not, at the sole discretion of the rights holder. This is not an exhaustive list, and the Australian IP legislation explores in great detail what can and can’t be done with Intellectual Property in Australia.
Generally speaking, the copyright protection afforded to the works persist for 70 years after the death of the creator, but can be more or less depending on the works and the individual circumstances. Although the rights may be limited, it is nonetheless an extensive protection that spans an exceedingly great period of time, which illustrates the importance that intellectual property rights are afforded under Australian case law and legislation.
There are some government documents available from the Attorney General’s department for further information about Copyright law in Australia. However, law of Intellectual Property is exceedingly complex, and it is best to refer to the expertise of a legal professional before making any commercial decision regarding your works.