Ownership of copyright in your original work
When you are enrolled in a course of education, it is inevitable that you will be producing copyright material. In most cases, you own copyright in any original works you create, including assignments, theses or dissertations. The copyright arises automatically as soon as your work is written down or recorded in some way. There is no legal requirement to put a copyright notice or symbol on your work to get copyright protection, although it is a good idea to do so. Refer below for further information.
Rights as a creator of material
Copyright ownership means you may choose how your original works may be copied and communicated, within certain limits. Generally, you have the exclusive right to copy, publish, publicly perform, play or show, and communicate your work to the public (broadcast, e-mail or upload onto the internet). Third parties who wish to copy or quote from your work or do other things restricted by copyright, may only do so within the scope of the law or with your permission. Alternatively, you may choose to make your work available under an open access licence such as Creative Commons (which permits users of the work to make use of them more freely than is permitted under copyright law). Researchers often choose to make their work available on open access repositories to increase readership and citations.
Under the law, if you create material as an employee, your employer generally retains copyright in any works you create in the course of your employment. However, this general rule can be changed by contract terms. If you are a staff member at a tertiary education provider, the terms of your employment agreement may have an impact on whether you own or control copyright in any work you produce.
If you are contracted by a tertiary education provider or third party to undertake research, the terms of your research contract will usually set out who owns copyright in the work you produce. In the absence of a contract, the commissioning rule in the Copyright Act may be relevant to you. Refer elsewhere in this knowledge base for an explanation of the commissioning rule.
Collaboration with others
If you have collaborated with a colleague to create a copyright work, you may both own copyright in the material created. This means that you have joint rights to use and authorise others to do restricted acts with the work. It is a good idea to agree at the outset of any joint research or study project how ownership in any copyright material will be held and the extent to which you each may make use of the end product or authorise others to use it and under what terms.
What you can do to protect your work
The best way to protect a work you have created is to ensure you have evidence that you created it. Keep dated notes, drafts, manuscripts and recordings used to produce your work. Put the universal copyright symbol ©, your name and the date on your work to let everyone know you claim copyright in the work. From a practical perspective, this helps people to contact you if they want to ask permission to use your work, although it does not give the work protection it would not otherwise have. Under the Copyright Act, there are certain legal presumptions that protect authors. Where an author’s name appears as author on a published literary, dramatic or musical work, or on an artistic work when it was made, that person is presumed until the contrary is proved, to be the author (and owner) of the work.
It is also a good idea to formally assert your moral right to be identified. For example, “ABC asserts her right to be identified as author of this work in accordance with the Copyright Act 1994”.