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Starting / Business startup

All you need to know about copyright – Part 1

What is copyright and is your work protected? What about work you post on the internet? This article answers your copyright FAQs.

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“I could have been a fragrance millionaire, Jerry!”

The Seinfeld episode where Kramer “invents” a fragrance is a good example of copyright gone wrong:

Kramer: THE BEACH! You smell like the beach. What’s the name of that perfume you’re wearing?

Tia: It’s Ocean by Calvin Klein.

Kramer: CALVIN KLEIN!? No, no. That’s my idea. They, they stole my idea. Y’ see I had the idea of a cologne that makes you smell like you just came from the beach … What is going on here?! He laughs at me then he steals my idea. I could have been a millionaire. I could have been a fragrance millionaire, Jerry!

Kramer was on the right track – he just didn’t take it quite far enough. Although you can’t copyright an idea, you can copyright an idea that has been developed.

So if Kramer had worked on the cologne’s formula and maybe had a trial batch made, that would constitute a ‘work’. You have automatic copyright protection when you first develop a ‘work’. Then if you go one step further and register your copyright, you’re in an even better position.

"Although you can’t copyright an idea, you can copyright an idea that has been developed."

What is copyright?

Copyright is an automatic protection in Australia for the owner of a ‘work’. A ‘work’ may be in the form of text, an image, music composition or recording, software code, a film, etc.

Copyright is an immediate right granted to the owner upon creation and you don’t have to register your right or ‘work’, in order to have the protection. The owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to control how and where their ‘work’ is used and may also sell these rights.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business startup section.

Will registering my copyright protect me?

Copyright ownership and rights are free. But for further protection, you can register things such as designs, innovations, artwork, music, pictures, etc. with IP Australia.

By registering ‘work’ you protect yourself from someone else claiming it was their ‘work’ first. Registration, in most circumstances, provides priority to the registrant, and unless the other person had objected during the application process they will have a difficult time asserting that it was their ‘work’. So it’s a good idea to register your valuable ‘work’ to protect it.

Does copyright apply to the internet?

Absolutely, it does. If you copy someone’s ‘work’ and post it on the internet, you’re breaching their copyright. And they have a right to sue you!

This infographic explains the most common myths about copyright and the internet.

The biggest myth is that if something has been posted on the internet, it’s in the “public domain”; people assume copyright protection no longer applies and it can be used freely. This is incorrect and a myth that needs to be corrected.

In most cases, if you breach copyright by posting something that belongs to another person on the internet, that person will simply ask you to remove it. But if you have reproduced it on a garment, on stationery or on something that you are selling or using to make money, the owner can ask you for all revenue received and ensure you don’t use it again.

This is the first article in a two-part series on copyright. Stay tuned for the next installment, where I will look at copyright infringements and fair use of copyrighted material.

Are you clear on your copyright protection and obligations? 

Vanessa Emilio

is a Practice Director, Lawyer, Founder and CEO of Legal123.com.au, a legal website business with easy-to-use, inexpensive legal templates, forms and agreements for everyday Australians as well as lots of useful information.

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