I feel like I’ve always worked (and lived) under the ominous shadow of copyright law. The fear of infringement and prosecution is a dull but persistent awareness lurking at the back of my mind; influencing every decision I make in terms of installing computer software and mobile apps, sourcing and using images and music, and especially in my work with digitally creative students. Yet at no time in my career has anyone fully explained Australian copyright law to me. To be frank, I don’t even know if I could stay awake through such an experience. I saw a copy of the Copyright Act once – as a printed document, it was thicker than my forearm!

A vague understanding of Australian Copyright law?

I have a vague understanding that:

  • I may copy up to 10% of any printed publication,
  • I must cite any ideas or claims and reference direct quotes in written text,
  • I may not use recorded music unless it’s “old”… like “classic” old ***
  • I have to seek permission to use images that are not licensed to share and reuse. To get around this I simply use Advanced Search functions in Google to limit my searches.
  • I may not remix or reuse any commercially recorded music tracks (I always make my own in GarageBand or use websites that stock copyright free soundtracks)

*** After researching this post I can now provide some clarification on almost-precisely how old… (I hope you’re sitting down, here goes): Prior to 1st January 2005, copyright expired 50 years after the end of the year of the death of the creator unless the work was published after they died, in which case 50 years is counted from the end of the year of publication but since the laws changed following Australia’s Fair Trade Agreement with the US in 2004, if copyright had not already expired prior to 1st January 2005, then the duration has changed to 70 years unless the work was never actually published in the first place, in which case it remains under copyright (takes a deep breath)… but that’s not all. Since 1969, certain creative works are covered under different laws so really, it’s anyone’s guess unless you take a very, very long time studying the law or pay for legal counsel on the matter. Clear as mud?

Infinite copyright for Disney? Read more about the "Fair Trade" agreement between US and Australia below.

Infinite copyright for Disney? Read more about the “Fair Trade” agreement between US and Australia below.

Click here to read more about the implications of the 2004 Free Trade agreement for copyright law in Australia, in straightforward language.

Making better sense of Copyright Law…

This week, I happened across the very informative Australian Copyright Council (ACC) website. This independent, non-profit organization claims to be “Supporting a creative Australia by promoting the benefit of copyright for the common good.”

Since reading Cushla Kapitzke’s (2009) article (discussed in a separate post), I have grave reservations about the efficacy of the ACC’s mission, however their website is a boon to the copyright-conscious. They manage to distill a immensely complex law into discreet and reasonably easy to follow “Fact Sheets” that are searchable on their website. Be careful though – users are only permitted to download and print one copy for personal reference! The ACC also offers a (limited) free online legal service.

The Australian Copyright Council website

The Australian Copyright Council website [Screenshot captured 15 September, 2013]

Copyright in the Classroom

In my work with children at school, I make sure they are familiar with the vague understandings I listed above, although I’m deliberately fuzzy about the legal consequences. I make it more of a “respect and responsibility” issue under the guise of Digital Citizenship – we may not use others’ work without permission and we must never try to pass it off as our own.

The "Bib Me" website

The very useful “Bib Me” website [Screenshot captured 15 Sep, 2013]

As I work in a primary school, I don’t insist on a particular referencing style, just that children make an effort to acknowledge their sources (in significantly more legitimate detail than, say, “I found it on Google”!). Most often a title and author or website URL will suffice but by year 6 and 7 I am showing them how to use the Bibliography feature in Word (see video below) as well as some online tools like Bib Me and Easy Bib.

Note: The above video explains how to make a Bibliography in Microsoft Word 2007, which does not differ a great deal from the 2010 version. A quick YouTube search will find alternative instructional videos for later versions.

Wherever possible, students are encouraged to create their own music, sound effects and images for audio-visual presentations. If time frame or circumstances render this impractical, I insist that they at least acknowledge the source of any material that they do not create themselves. As young students in a primary school, shielded by the “educational use” umbrella it is enough that they gain an understanding of ownership and copyright. However, before our students leave primary school, we need to impart an awareness of copyright alternatives such as Creative Commons licensing and familiarity with a range of filtered search options for locating such raw materials.

For further information, see my Creative Commons resource page.


This post is one of a series on Copyright, Creative Commons and Popular Culture. You may also be interested in these two posts:



Kapitzke, C. (2009). Rethinking copyrights for the library through Creative Commons licensing. Library Trends. 58(1), pp. 95-108

Image Sources:

Infinite copyright for Disney” [CC BY-SA 3.0] by AnonMoos via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Image: “Copyright support postcard (front)” [CC BY 2.0] by University of Michigan Library on Flickr


2 thoughts on “Entering the Shadows: Making Sense of Copyright

  1. Pingback: Picking a Path through the Copyright Minefield | The Grapevine

  2. Pingback: Copyright + Pop Culture = Creative Commons | The Grapevine

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