Watch but don’t touch! Copyright and the Australian law

Before copyright was introduced in 1710 by the statute of Queen Anne:
– scarce resources such as land were the only things related to the concept of ‘property’.
– anyone could freely copy, modify or sell content which was not their own.
– someone else could copy and sell your work with no penalty.
Before copyright.. ideas were considered public commons.

In Australia, you don’t need to apply for copyright protection, it is free and automatic, from the first time the work is recorded in some way. Until the 1st of January 2005, copyright lasted for the life of the author or creator plus 50 years. Various exceptions included: when a work was not published, performed or broadcast during the creators lifetime, and when it was published anonymously. In these cases, copyright lasted for 50 years from the end of the year it was published, performed or broadcast.

When Australia entered into the Free Trade agreement with the U.S, they agreed to extend the duration of copyright Australia wide. The rules now state that copyright generally lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years. However, in the exceptional circumstances previously mentioned, copyright lasts until 70 years after it was first published. Although, if the copyright on content had expired before January 1st 2005, the Free Trade Agreement doesn’t not apply and the material can be used freely.

There have been many famous cases of copyright infringement involving high profile artists or creators. One example of this is the case of Vanilla Ice vs Queen and Bowie, regarding a copyright infringement that occured in 1990. Vanilla Ice had sampled Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” without consent or license. He altered the rhythm of the baseline thinking he would be avoiding any question of credit, royalties, license or even permission. It was an obvious breach of copyright, however, this case never went to court. He paid a settlement to Queen and David Bowie for an undisclosed (but probably very high) amount. Ice Ice Baby has been released in many different versions, since then, with all of the legal procedures followed.

Copyright is a crucial part of maintaining diversity and originality in our global society. Without it we would be bored to tears with the lack of interesting music, books, films etc. because they would all be the same…



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