Copyright and Contracts

Copyright and contracts is such a dense and complex topic, very few people actually have a full understating of its ins and outs. It’s incredibly easy to take creative material these days through the internet and other means of technology and so many international laws and treaties have been established to preserve and secure creative art from being copied and stolen. In Australia, Copyright is governed by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

…”We have a massive system to regulate creativity. A massive system of lawyers regulating creativity as copyright law has expanded in unrecognizable forms, going from a regulation of publishing to a regulation of copying”… Lawrence Lessig

As a student of creative media, this is will become terribly important for me and the people I will work with, to establish some security, this is a passion as much as a job. So what is it that I will actually need to know before signing a contract? Or hiring someone? Or publishing a project?

Essential copyright knowledge for students and people new to the industry would be…

  • Copyright is implicated from the moment creative material is made
  • It only protects the actual material and the creators, not names, phrases, styles or techniques etc
  • Australian Copyright laws apply to the material that is in Australia, regardless of whether or not the material was created in Australia.
  • Copyright allows the creator to…
    • Reproduce the material
    • Publish the material for the first time
    • Communicate the work
    • Perform the work in a public environment (literary/dramatic/musical works)
    • Adapt and Transform the work (literary/dramatic/musical works)

EMI Records and Sony BMG Records were fairly recently taken to court over accusations from Larrikin Music, claiming that the Australian Rock outfit, “Men at Work”, plagiarised the main flute riff from the classic Australian kids song “Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree”, in their hit song “Down Under”. In February 2010, the court ruled that Larrikin Musics Copyright had been violated and were entitled to a hefty amount of royalties from “Down Under”. The case is still ongoing at this point. This, I believe, is a great example of a large-scale copyright infringement that began over a single flute riff which lasted the grand total of a few seconds. And could have been avoided, had EMI and Sony BMG Records asked for authorisation by Larrikin to use the riff in the song.


For more information on the details of the case and specifics of the songs, visit the link below……

What I’ve discovered through the duration of this course, is that a lot of work in creative media is freelance/project work. Contracts in these scenarios are vital to ensuring the job or requirements are fulfilled to the needs of the client, and of course that the hired hand gets everything they’re entitled to. I never considered how a simple contract would be a necessity at student level, given that no one is getting paid to take part in university projects. However with this in mind, a contract, even just a simple one can save a project from collapsing, or it can ensure better control over an employee’s work, and obviously it provides a legal statement binding them to the terms of the project/job.



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