IP & Copyright

Copyright plus Intellectual and Cultural Property

The following information is based on information supplied by the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

There are basically three reasons why you would want to know about copyright in language work. The first reason is that you want to use what someone else has written about your language. The second reason is that you want to protect your work from others using it. The third reason is that you want to protect your language from others using it. These three points are discussed in order below, followed by contact details for where to get more information.

To use someone else’s work:

Everything that is ever written or recorded is protected by copyright (so that means published books, manuscripts, CDs, tapes, computer programmes, films, artwork, photographs etc,) This is particularly so, legally, if the work is marked with a copyright © symbol and officially dated.

Copyright applies for the lifetime of the author or artist, plus an extra 70 years after their death.[1] During this time you need the author or artist’s permission to copy or use their work, unless it is for your own study purposes. After this copyright period, the work is open to the public and can be copied or used by anyone. The exception to this is unpublished work: for resources that have never been published (e.g. manuscripts) the copyright never expires.

Until the copyright has expired on any sources you want to use, you can copy up to 10% of the work, but you must show which parts are copied and say where they were copied from. Even if the copyright does not apply, it is a good idea to state on your copy where you got your information from, so that any errors can be tracked down and corrected in the future.

To protect your own work:

Unfortunately, copyright is still a very difficult issue in language projects, because at this stage copyright cannot be held by a community. Copyright can only be held by an individual, a group of named individuals or an organisation.

Quite simply anything that is written, drawn or recorded is protected by copyright for 70 years after the death of the author or artist. This is automatic and you are not required to apply for copyright or to write that copyright on your work. If you do write it on your work, it will remind others that this is your work, though and you can do this with: © Your name and the year it was first available to the public.

Only the person who has the copyright can copy or change their work or give permission for other people to do so. Universities and schools can copy your work if it is for educational purposes but they must pay you for this right. If you think a person or organisation has copied your work without your permission, contact Arts Law (details below) for advice.

The copyright holder is generally the author or artist of the work. In some instances, when the project is being funded by certain organisations, copyright is held by the funding body. Also when the work is done as part of your job, your job contract may give the copyright to your employer (which may be the government). This is something to consider when signing contracts for project funding. It may be possible in these instances to share the copyright with the organisation or employer concerned. If you do not hold the copyright, you still have the right to write your name on the work.

To protect your language:

Languages are not protected by copyright, but should be protected by Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP).  ICIP should also protect traditional and sacred knowledge, acknowledgement of the community on works connected to that culture, payment for use of your knowledge, and respect for traditional laws. How much your ICIP is protected varies between countries. In Australia, the law only protects ICIP as far as the copyright laws do. Therefore the individual author or artists ICIP is protected, but not languages and not the community’s ICIP.

[1]This changed on 1st January 2005 with the Free Trade Agreement with America. Until then the copyright was the lifetime of the author or artist plus 50 years after their death. Any work where the copyright expired before 1st January 2005 does not change its status. All work that was still covered by copyright on 1st January 2005 now has copyright until 70 years after the death of the author or artist.


For more information about copyright and intellectual property rights contact:

Arts Law Centre of Australia

C/- The Gunnery, 43-51 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011

Toll free number: 1800 221457

Ph:  (02) 9356 2566; Fax: (02) 9358 6475

E-mail: mailto:artslaw@artslaw.com.au

Website:   http://www.artslaw.com.au

The Arts Law Centre Indigenous service, “Artists in the Black”, represents many Indigenous artists around Australia. The staff include an Aboriginal solicitor and an Aboriginal Information Liaison Officer who can give you free legal advice over the phone about the arts in relation to copyright.

Australian Copyright Council

C/- Post: P.O. Box 1986, Strawberry Hills, NSW 2012

Ph: (02) 9318 1788

E-mail: mailto:info@copyright.org.au

Website: www.copyright.org.au

The Australian Copyright Council also has information sheets on their website and can give some free advice regarding copyright.

Magabala Books

C/- Post: P.O. Box 668, Broome WA 6725

Ph: (08) 91921991; Fax: (08) 91935254

E-mail: info@magabala.com

Magabala books have a pamphlet, A basic guide to copyright by Colin Golvan, Bruce Sims and Jill Walsh for $2.20.        

Another excellent source of information on copyright and Indigenous rights is the book:

Frankl, M. & Company and Janke,Terri (1998) Our Culture: Our Future: Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights. Canberra, AIATSIS & ATSIC. It is also available on the web on:  http://www.icip.lawnet.com.au/culture




Compiled by Emma Cother with Dr Mary-Anne Gale

Discipline of Linguistics

Universityof Adelaide




Funded under the Maintenance and Promotion of Indigenous Languages Program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

Project Manager: Prof. Peter Mühlhäusler