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Blog: Blog2
  • Writer's pictureRyan van Eerde

Copyright............What Is It

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

Copyright can seem to be a very mysterious concept that's wrapped up in bunch of legal jargon which makes people not really want to explore what it's truly about, but when you do look into it and have a better understanding of what it covers it can be very beneficial to your creative practise. As I am looking to get more into the audio industry I shall predominantly be discussing copyright and some associated companies within this filed of media.

Copyright law creates incentives for people to invest their time, talent and other resources in creating new material – particularly cultural and educational material, which benefits society.

(An Introduction to Copyright Australia, 2017, p 1)

The above quote is from the Australian Copyright Council and I like it because it expresses the fact that the law is there to help people produce works and make them want to invest their time in creativity. Speaking in more legal terms copyright provides people with a framework that allows them control over the products they create, this framework is the reason why people can feel safe about creating new material without other people potentially taken credit for their original work. Something that most people might not fully realise is that you do not need to register for copyright protection, as soon as you have created an original piece of work it is automatically protected (An Introduction to Copyright Australia, 2017, p 1). Understanding this concept as a creative practitioner myself is greatly reassuring to know that the work that I have already created is protected.

What does copyright protect exactly, below is a list of protected products taken straight from the Australian Copyright Council.

  • textual material (“literary works”) such as journal articles, novels, screenplays, poems, song lyrics and reports;

  • computer programs (a sub-category of “literary works”);

  • compilations (another sub-category of “literary works”) such as anthologies – the selection and arrangement of material may be protected separately from the individual items contained in the compilation;

  • artistic works such as paintings, drawings, cartoons, sculpture, craft work, architectural plans, buildings, photographs, maps and plans; • dramatic works such as choreography, screenplays, plays and mime pieces;

  • musical works: that is, the music itself, separately from any lyrics or recording;

  • cinematograph films: the visual images and sounds in a film, video or DVD are protected separately from any copyright in works recorded on the film or video, such as scripts and music;

  • sound recordings: the particular recording itself is protected by copyright, in addition to, for example, the music or story that is recorded;

  • broadcasts: TV and radio broadcasters have a copyright in their broadcasts, which is separate from the copyright in the films, music and other material which they broadcast; and

  • published editions: publishers have copyright in their typographical arrangements, which is separate from the copyright in works reproduced in the edition (such as poems or illustrations or music).

(An Introduction to Copyright Australia, 2017, p 2)

As an audio engineer its interesting to know that the sound recordings I do are also protected and that my efforts are recognised. When you listen to a song its not only the musicians input that has gone in to make it the recording engineer and/or producer also have a creative input in shaping the song to be the best product in can be. Another interesting aspect of copyright in songs is that the music and lyrics are protected separately from each other meaning that in a band situation the musicians and lyricist own different aspects of the song, which can be good or can be bad depending on the band themselves. A song then can have multiple different copyrights attached to it, the musical works, the lyrics, and the sound recording, also if the song is published through a company they have copyright of the song as well. This can all seem very confusing but for the most part people just need to realise that the products they create are protected.

Sometimes though you do not hold the copyright of the products you create, but I just told you they did so whats going on here. If someone is employed to create a product the company or person employing for them will hold the copyright of what is produced, for example if I am commissioned by a games company to make music for their game they will hold the rights to what I produce. The copyright ownership or co-ownership can be agreed upon before the start of the project but most of the time it will be the employer that owns the work (An Introduction to Copyright Australia, 2017, p 3).

If you want to use copyrighted material you must first get permission from the copyright holder, for music and sound recordings because they can potentially have many separate copyrights surrounding them (musical, lyrical, recording, publishing) depending on how you want to use them you may have to contact many different organisations. The Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMCOS) and the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) are good starting places to find the copyright owner/s of the music and lyrics as they have databases with information about the musicians that have signed up with them. Not all music practitioners are with APRA AMCOS so you might have to find the copyright holder yourself. To find the company that owns the copyright to a sound recording you can use the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) and the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA), but again not all recording companies are registered (Permission: How To Get It, 2014, p 4).

You can however use copyrighted materials in a few specific circumstances called fair dealing, such as:

  • research or study;

  • criticism or review;

  • parody or satire;

  • reporting news;

  • enabling a person with a disability to access the material; or

  • professional advice by a lawyer, patent attorney or trade marks attorney.

(Fair Dealing: What Can I Use Without Permission?, 2017, p 2)

An example of using copyrighted material under fair dealing is a music reviewer who plays spinets of a bands song on their YouTube channel to better communicate their critic. It would be a bit unnecessary for someone to get permission to use a 20 or 30 second sound clip every time they wanted to review a piece of music, obviously it would be "fair" to use the whole song but that's where common sense comes in. The fair dealing part of this copyright use is that the reviewer is not reproducing the work and saying that its theirs, they are using it in a way to inform people which most people would deem to be OK. Also as a student it would be very difficult to do research and gather information from books and websites if I had to constantly ask permission to use them.

Going back to APRA AMCOS now, they are music rights organisations that

license organisations to play, perform, copy, record or make available our members’ music, and we distribute the royalties to our members.

("What we do", 2018)

They basically provide royalties to the copyright holders, APRA manages the performing rights when music is performed publicly including on radio, television, online, live gigs etc, AMCOS manages the mechanical rights which is the reproduction or copying and storage of music in different formats, such as downloading music from iTunes. APRA AMCOS really provides a good service that allows you to be paid for people using your copyrighted work, they are also affiliated with similar international organisations so no matter where around the world your work is being used you can still get royalties from it.

All up copyright is there to protect the original creators ownership of their work from being used unfairly, with organisations like APRA AMCOS providing a means for music creators to receive royalties for the use of their work. Its good to know that if my music gets played there is a company I can register with that helps me collect some money for the work I have done and that people can't reproduce my work without me receiving something in return. Also as I am using samples in one of my projects I need to now make sure that I can use them without infringing on someone else's copyright, even though I'm not expecting to get any royalties from the project anyway.


An Introduction to Copyright Australia. (2017). [Ebook]. Retrieved from

Permission: How To Get It. (2014). [Ebook]. Retrieved from

Fair Dealing: What Can I Use Without Permission?. (2017). [Ebook]. Retrieved from

What we do. (2018). Retrieved from

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