Copyright law is regulated by the Copyright Act 1994 which sets out the types of material that can be protected by copyright and how it applies to that material. It also sets out basic “default rules” regarding ownership of copyright in certain works and what permitted uses apply to that material. The Copyright Act is the default position governing the rights you have in material you create in the education context and also governing what you can legally do with third party copyright material, whether that is incorporating quotes in a course assignment or thesis, producing copies of articles for students or playing video clips in class. Infringement of copyright by staff and students may result in infringement action being taken under the Copyright Act against them and also potentially against their institution.
Agreements which modify copyright
In practice, the default rules in the Copyright Act, in particular those relating to copying from text-based works for distribution in class, are fairly restrictive. Consequently, the default rules are often altered and extended by commercial agreements between copyright owners (or their representatives) and tertiary education providers. Licence agreements entered into by educational institutions extend the type and amount of material that can be copied and distributed to staff and students than would otherwise be allowed under the Act. Individuals in the tertiary education sector also have access to special licences, particularly in the online context, that give them additional allowance to use content for the furtherance of educational purposes. From a copyright ownership point of view, many employment agreements in the tertiary education providers context will modify the default ownership rules under the Copyright Act, for example, by explicitly stating that an employee owns certain copyright works created during the course of employment with the tertiary education provider.