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Permission exceptions

In Australia, you may be able to copy material without seeking permission under one of the following conditions:

  • Licensed for reuse (Creative Commons licenses) 
  • Fair dealing (unlikely in professional practice)
  • Orphaned work
  • Out of copyright, or in the public domain.

Important: While you may not need to acquire copyright permission to use these works, the moral rights of the creator should still be respected through attribution.  In many cases, this is also a requirement of the reuse license.

Licensed for reuse (Creative Commons)

Creative Commons licensed material can be used without seeking permission as long as you follow the license conditions. There are six main licences which specify the reuse, adaptation, remixing, or sharing allowances.

Creative Commons Symbol License Free to: Conditions:
CC BY symbol CC BY Share & Adapt Attribution
CC BY-SA symbol CC BY-SA Share & Adapt Attribution, ShareAlike
CC BY-NC symbol CC BY-NC Share & Adapt Attribution, NonCommercial
CC BY-NC-SA symbol CC BY-NC-SA Share & Adapt Attribution, NonCommercial, ShareAlike
CC BY-ND symbol CC BY-ND Share Attribution, NoDerivatives
CC BY-NC-ND CC BY-NC-ND Share Attribution, NonCommercial, NoDerivatives

In professional settings avoid those that feature:

  • a Non Commercial (‘NC’) clause which prohibits activities for commercial purposes, or
  • a No Derivatives (ND) clause, which means it cannot be adapted into a new work.

Not all licences allow reuse for commercial purposes or adaptation. One condition of all CC licenses is attribution. It is  important to cite the version of the CC licence the work being used is licensed under not just the licence type.

Important: Make sure you read the licence terms and conditions and comply with the conditions of use, to avoid unintentionally breaching copyright. 

Learn more:

Activity: Creative Commons

Visit the Creative Commons website to understand the licences. Match the Creative Commons license clause descriptions and icons by dragging and dropping them into the right place. 

Australia has a ‘Fair Dealing’ provision (exception), which allows individuals to copy limited amounts of copyrighted material without permission.  This is different to the United States “Fair Use” defence, and much more prescriptive. You may not be able to rely upon this clause in your professional practice, as Fair Dealing only applies under specific circumstances:

  • reporting news
  • criticism or review
  • education i.e., research or study
  • parody or satire if accompanied by commentary
  • legal advice or for judicial proceedings
  • enabling access for persons with disabilities

You may also come across content for which copyright and copyright holders cannot be determined, often referred to as ‘Orphan works’. As their copy rights and protections cannot be confirmed, it is recommended to take a risk-management approach and avoid their use where possible.

If you do use an orphan material keep records of a due diligence search to track the rightsholder and include a ‘good faith notice’. This indicates that you have been unable to identify the copyright owner and encourages them to contact you to discuss your usage. While a good faith notice will not necessarily protect you from litigation, it does demonstrate that you have attempted to comply with the law.

Content in the Public Domain does not require you to seek permission to use. In Australia, content can enter the Public Domain if:
  • Copyright has expired
  • The copyright owner has expressly waived their rights

In Australia, copyright of text, images and music generally lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death – even if the creator did not own the copyright. However, Australian copyright duration can vary depending on a few factors.

Note: Content that is considered Public Domain in one country may not be Public Domain in another country, due to the different copyright laws and licensing and/or registration schemes that may be required. Items in the public domain are also sometimes displayed as: “CCO: No rights reserved”

Activity: Fair Dealing

Channel 10 Australia's “The Panel” show has faced multiple litigations for their use of copyrighted video clips. When the show’s clips were followed by a discussion, this was found to be permissible under fair dealing. However, when they showed clips just because they found them funny, a court found them liable for copyright infringement.

Activity: Public Domain

Watch the following Peter Combe video to test your knowledge of Public Domain.