Chapter 5 Copyright

Copyright is an unregistered form of IP founded on a person's creative skill and labour. It protects the original expression of an idea or information. Copyright material generally includes items such as books, artwork, software, film and sound recordings.

Copyright provides exclusive economic rights that allow the copyright owner to do certain acts with their copyright material. These acts may include copying, publishing, publicly performing or otherwise communicating the copyright material (e.g., broadcasting it or making it available online). Copyright owners may also licence another person to do some or all of those acts.

In addition, copyright law also provides non-economic rights, known as moral rights. These are designed to protect the creative integrity of copyright creators.

In Australia, copyright is granted automatically from the time an original work is created and does not need to be registered. With no formalities and low barriers to protection, copyright is easily accessible to different sectors, including SMEs.

The Attorney-General’s Department is responsible for managing the Copyright Act 1968. The Department develops Australian copyright policy and represents Australia’s interests in relation to international copyright issues.

The contribution of copyright to Australia

Copyright has a central role in content-based industries as a driver of economic value. Collectively, these industries are sometimes referred to as the ‘creative economy’ – a way of recognising the economic value of creativity and innovation underpinned by IP rights1.

Measuring the contribution of content-based industries is one way to gauge the value of economic activity enabled by copyright. A study commissioned by the Australian Copyright Council and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) found that Australian industries that rely on copyright protection contributed $124.1 billion to the Australian economy in 20182. This estimate included the contribution of ‘core’ copyright industries and $7.5 billion contributed by non-dedicated industries that support core copyright industries3. The study used a methodology developed by the WIPO.

A more recent publication by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development Communication and the Arts estimated that ‘cultural and creative activity’ contributed $122.3 billion to the Australian economy in 2019–20 (see Figure 5.1)4. This economic contribution was 27.1% higher than in 2010–11, and was equivalent to 6.2% of Australia’s GDP. The analysis captured smaller sectors (such as zoological and botanical garden operations) not directly underpinned by copyright; however, it also excluded some non-dedicated industries5.

The publication found that industries with the greatest contribution to cultural and creative activity included:

  • design at $50.9 billion
  • fashion ($15.1 billion)
  • literature and print media ($8.3 billion)
  • broadcasting, electronic or digital media and film ($8.1 billion).

Findings from the PwC study demonstrated that these industries were supported by copyright to some degree.

Figure 5.1 Cultural and creative activity (value, 2019–20)

* ‘Other’ includes museums, libraries and archives, performing arts, environmental heritage, music composition and publishing, visual arts and crafts, cultural goods manufacturing and sales and supporting activities.

** ‘Compensation of employees’ is income received by individuals working in cultural and creative occupations outside industries identified as cultural and creative.

Use of copyright content

Copyright law provides mechanisms by which creators and other copyright owners can maintain control over their work. The system is designed to provide creators with adequate incentives to create and disseminate new content. It also facilitates various uses of copyright material. These include collective licensing arrangements that are voluntary or, in some public interest circumstances, mandatory. In addition, public interest exceptions enable some uses of copyright material without the copyright owner’s permission. 

The value of licensing through collecting societies

A significant portion of the economic contribution attributable to copyright takes the form of direct licensing arrangements between copyright owners and users.

Australia’s copyright arrangements also include collecting societies. These bodies collect fees from licensing arrangements that allow large volumes of copyright material to be put to various uses and distribute the fees to the owners of the creative works.

For users and owners of creative content, negotiating individual licences can be a burdensome and costly process that diminishes their value. Educational institutions, governments and businesses commonly rely on collective licensing to access copyright material and reduce licensing costs.

The annual reports of collecting societies provide insight into the scale at which copyright material is used. In 2021–22:

  • $434.2 million in Australian royalties were paid to music industry rights-holders by the Australasian Performing Right Association and Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society, together known as APRA AMCOS6;
  • $95 million was allocated to more than 22,000 rights-holders, including writers, artists, publishers and agents by Copyright Agency Limited (CAL). Collective licensing by CAL also indirectly benefits other creative industries workers – writers and illustrators working in-house or with contractual entitlements to a share of Copyright Agency payments7;
  • $39.6 million was distributed to registered artists and licensors by the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA)8;
  • $45.9 million was distributed to 4,900 copyright owners in the audio-visual sector – such as producers, directors, broadcasters and agents – by Screenrights9.

Consumption of online copyright content

A large number of Australians consume copyright content online. The Consumer Survey on Online Copyright Infringement (the ‘Consumer Survey’) provides insight into consumption. This is an annual publication commissioned by the Attorney-General's Department. The survey analyses current trends in online copyright content consumption and copyright infringement (discussed below)10.

According to the 2022 Consumer Survey, almost three-quarters (72%) of respondents surveyed had consumed some form of online content (music, movies/films, TV programs, video games or live sport) in the past three months. Broadly, the proportion of respondents consuming each content type has increased over time (see Figure 5.2).

Figure 5.2 Proportion of respondents who consumed each content type (either lawfully or unlawfully) 2015 to 2022

Copyright infringement (unlawful access to copyright content)

The Consumer Survey indicates that the overall proportion of respondents who had consumed some online copyright content unlawfully has increased (39% in 2022, compared to 30% in 2021). However, for each content type, the rates of unlawful consumption increased only marginally (and declined for video games).

Adjustments to the 2022 Consumer Survey have made it more sensitive to emerging methods of unlawful consumption. As such, an increase in overall infringement is likely partly due to the survey’s increased ability to detect infringing behaviours11.

Australia’s website blocking scheme is achieving its purpose

Australia’s website blocking scheme allows copyright owners to apply to the Federal Court of Australia to block an online site that operates outside Australia and infringes copyright material.

To December 2022, almost 2,000 websites have been blocked since the scheme commenced in 2015. The 2022 Consumer Survey indicates that the scheme has reduced the extent to which consumers access content through websites that infringe copyright. Around three-quarters of respondents who encountered a website blocked by the scheme reported that they either ‘gave up’ or sought lawful access (see Figure 5.4).

Figure 5.3 Actions taken when encountering a blocked website

  1. Guide on surveying the economic contribution of the copyright-based industries. World Intellectual Property Organization (2015).
  2. The economic contribution of Australia’s copyright industries – 2006-2018. PricewaterhouseCoopers (2020). 

  3. ‘Non-dedicated’ includes industries in which a portion of the activities are related to facilitating broadcast, communication, distribution or sales of works and other protected subject matter, and whose activities have not been included in the core copyright industries (e.g., wholesale, retail, transport, and information and communication industries).

  4. BCARR—Visual summary: Cultural and creative activity in Australia 2010-11 to 2019-20, Bureau of Communications, Arts and Regional Research. (2022). Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communication and the Arts. 

  5. The analysis uses the same approach taken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in their Cultural and Creative Activity Satellite Account and includes a broad range of industries where cultural and creative activity occurs.

  6.  Figure provided by APRA AMCOS based on royalties paid for the year ended 30 June 2022.

  7. Copyright Agency annual report 2021-22. Copyright Agency Limited (2022). 

  8. Phonographic Performance Company of Australia. (2022). PPCA annual report 2022.

  9. Year in review 2021-2022. Screenrights (2022). 

  10. Consumer survey on online copyright infringement 2022: Survey findings report [commissioned by the Australian Attorney-General’s Department]. ORIMA Research (2023). 
  11. In addition, due to changes to the survey’s methodology, comparisons between 2022 and earlier survey results should be made with caution.