Last updated: 
6 December 2019

Read more on copyright at Department of Communication and the Arts main copyright page.

Copyright protects literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, television and sound broadcasts. It also protects photographs and images, software source code, and written materials such user manuals. Copyright provides the owner with exclusive rights copy, publish, and communicate the material to the public.

Unlike most other IP rights, copyright does not need to be registered in order to be granted. The creator of a work is automatically granted copyright protection in Australia, China, and the other 174 Berne Convention countries (most of the world).

Registering copyright in China

China operates an optional copyright registration system, as do many other countries (but not Australia). The general purpose of copyright registration systems is to provide a record of the ownership, date and content of a copyright work.

Registering copyright in China provides the owner with a Chinese government-issued document showing ownership of a work. This can be useful for a number of reasons.

A copyright registration will greatly simplify enforcement in China. It will make it easier for the copyright owner to enforce their rights against infringers through local authorities or the Chinese courts. Copyright registration will also help you take action against web pages and infringing listings on Chinese e-commerce platforms, which often directly copy a brand owner’s copyright-protected product images.

If a business has a sufficiently creative logo mark, copyright can be a useful tool in addition to trade mark registration. Copyright on the logo can be used to challenge bad faith trade mark registrations with respect to any goods or services, and can be a useful fall-back right if you have difficulty registering your logo trade mark.

If you do not register your copyright in China, and need to provide evidence of your copyright, you may need to provide notarised evidence of the creation and ownership of the work. Furthermore, these documents may need to be authenticated by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and certified by the Chinese Embassy or Consulates General in Australia (see the Chinese embassy website for more). This process can be burdensome compared with registering copyright in China.

The National Copyright Administration of China administers the Copyright Protection Centre of China. This is the official government body responsible for all copyright registration in China, including software registration. It is difficult to apply for copyright registration without professional help. We suggest you seek the assistance of a local advisor to register your copyright in China.

Copyright registration generally takes one to three months, with some small official registration fees. You can register copyright at any time after creating the work, but more evidence of the creation of the work may be required if you file the registration after an alleged infringement. Having key copyright registered before you encounter infringement can help you to take enforcement actions sooner.

Software

See IP Australia’s Copyright for digital products page for more about how copyright applies to source code.

China operates a specific software copyright registration system. Like other copyright registrations, registration is optional, and the main benefit is to facilitate enforcement against any infringement. The registration provides evidence of copyright ownership in a manner familiar to Chinese authorities.

The deposit requires disclosing a portion of the source code, but there are options to minimise the disclosure. The exceptional deposit option allows you to redact large portions of the source code. You may also restructure source code to reduce the disclosure of important portions. There is also the ‘seal’ option wherein only the owner and judiciary are permitted to open the sealed material.

Software owners who do not register source code may find it useful to retain appropriate date-stamped evidence of authorship of the source code on file, and possibly notarised by a notary public, as evidence of copyright ownership should it be needed in future.

A lawyer with experience in software copyright can advise you further.

Designs

In Australia, copyright protection for a design ceases once it has been applied industrially, defined as being applied to more than 50 articles. This means designers cannot rely on copyright to prevent others from making copies of their mass-produced work in Australia. Designers must instead protect their design by registering a design right in Australia.

In China, copyright continues to apply to mass-produced works, as long as they meet the standard copyright requirement of originality. This can help design owners enforce their rights in China, particularly if they do not have a design patent in China. However, securing a Chinese design patent will provide additional protection to the copyright.