Copyright is a legal right that gives copyright owners the right to control certain activities with their works. These activities include copying and re-use, such as publication, adaptation and communicating the work to the public (for example, by making it available online). If a work is in copyright you may need to seek the permission of the copyright owner.

The duration of copyright in published materials is generally 70 years from the death of the creator, or (for sound recordings and films) from the date of publication. For unpublished materials the duration may be even longer.

Before making a digital copy of a work or item publicly available you should:

  • determine whether a copyright permission is necessary
  • get permission, if it is required
  • adhere to moral rights, such as crediting the works’ creator.

Australian copyright law is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth).

Public domain works

Public domain works are commonly defined as works that are ‘out of copyright’ because the duration of copyright has expired.

Making digital copies of public domain works that are freely available for personal, research or study purposes provides greater opportunities for innovation, engagement, creativity and deeper understanding of collections. Usage should respect any creator and/or community moral rights and acknowledge the collection from which the work has been sourced.

Creative Commons

Some copyright owners choose to make their work available under a Creative Commons license which – depending on the type of license chosen – allow their works to be shared, adapted and reused. It is suggested that GLAM organisations set a policy that anything created from their collection be made available under a Creative Commons license. Where other copyright restrictions do not impede it, this should be the copyright form of choice for cultural institutions.

Creative Commons Australia has published a Creative Commons + GLAM resource kit.

More information

The Australian Libraries Copyright Committee and Australian Copyright Council have a range of user-friendly fact sheets on various aspects of copyright, including information specifically for cultural institutions.