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Moral and Commercial Rights

In Australia, the creator of a work is generally the copyright owner of that work until or unless they assign their copyright to someone else. Owning copyright gives the copyright owner a monopoly over how a work can be used.

Creators also have moral rights. These rights cannot be assigned or licensed, and last for the same period of time as copyright protection. When reusing copyright material you will need to respect the moral rights of the creator.

 If you intend to use a work or a substantial part of a work in one of the ways exclusively reserved for the copyright owner then you must receive their permission. 

Important: Universities use a specific provision under Australian Copyright Law which has allowed you to reproduce small parts of copyrighted material for educational use.  In professional commercial practice this clause will no longer apply and attribution alone may be insufficient. Instead, you will need to comply with the full requirements of copyright law.  Failure to do so can put you at risk of litigation.


Moral Rights

 ‘Moral rights’ are the rights individual creators have in relation to copyright works they have created. Creators have three moral rights:

  • The right to be attributed (or credited)
  • The right not to have their work falsely attributed; and
  • The right not to have their work treated in a derogatory way.

Moral rights continue for as long as the copyright period – generally 70 years after the author’s death. If moral rights have been infringed, the creator may claim for infringement and be awarded financial compensation; while the infringer may receive an injunction to cease the activity. 

Important: When reusing material in your professional practice you will need to attribute to protect the moral rights of others unless an exception applies. The form or format of attribution may vary according to the license.

In general though, the format to attribute is:

  • Title of the work, Author, Source, and License (link to)

Tip: See our conclusion to see how we have attributed our images used throughout this guide.

Commercial Rights

The copyright owner has commercial rights which restricts the reuse of material by others. These rights can be referred to as economic rights. The copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • Profit from the works
  • Choose how and by who the work is used
  • Make adaptions or translations of the work
Important: Unless a special exception applies (see page on Permission Exceptions) if you use copyright material in any of the ways controlled by the copyright owner without permission you will be infringing copyright.


Learn more:

Activity : Moral rights

Read this fact sheet about each of the three moral rights in Australia. Then complete the activities below: