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Who owns copyright?

Creators and investors in creation

Generally under the Copyright Act, the first copyright owner is the creator of the work, and in the case of a sound recording, film, broadcast or published edition, the person who makes that copyright material.

Those involved in the creation of, or investment in, copyright material can reach agreement about who will own the copyright. Copyright owners can assign in writing their copyright to someone else.

Copyright can be owned by legal entities that are not individuals (eg a company) and copyright ownership can be shared among a number of people.

The purchase and ownership of a physical item (eg a book), does not give any rights in the copyright material embodied in that item (eg the literary works contained in the book).

  • There are exceptions to this general rule, some of which are listed below:

    • Works created by an employee, other than a freelance worker or volunteer, during the course of their usual employment
      Who owns copyright
    • Photographs commissioned after 30 July 1998 for a private or domestic purpose (eg family portraits)
      Who owns copyright
      Client, but the photographer may stop the work being used for any other purpose
    • Works created on or after 30 July 1998^ by journalists and photographers employed by newspaper proprietors
      Who owns copyright
      Journalist and photographer own copyright for purposes of book publication and photocopying; proprietor owns copyright for all other purposes
    • Freelance journalists and photographers
      Who owns copyright
      Usually owned by the freelancer but may be subject to any contract signed with a publisher
    • Works made or first published by, or under the direction or control of, the Commonwealth Government or a State or Territory Government
      Who owns copyright
      Relevant government
    • Typographical arrangement in a published edition
      Who owns copyright

    For additional information see the Australian Copyright Council’s Ownership of Copyright information sheet.

University of Sydney Intellectual Property Policy
  • Under the University’s Intellectual Property Policy 2016, the University will generally own all intellectual property originated by staff:

    • in the course of employment by the University;
    • using University resources;
    • at the specific request or direction of the University; or
    • as part of a project or program supported by funding obtained or provided by the University

    This includes, for example, teaching materials. Works that are considered to be both teaching materials and scholarly works, or teaching materials and creative works, are treated as teaching materials under the Intellectual Property Policy.

    Generally, staff who are the originator of scholarly works or creative works will own all intellectual property rights in them, but the University will generally own the intellectual property if the works originated at the specific request or direction of the University. Where the originator owns the intellectual property under the policy, the University has a licence to use such works and to sub-license other parties to do so.

    Students own the copyright in their theses and scholarly works in the absence of any specific agreement to the contrary. However, the University will own intellectual property created by students in certain circumstances (eg if the intellectual property is created using University background intellectual property).

    For detailed information check the University's Intellectual Property Policy.

This information is provided as general information only. It provides a basic introduction to copyright and is not intended to be comprehensive.

Reviewed December 2017

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