This information on copyright does not constitute legal advice. Rather it is intended to provide information and guidance on copyright and copying material in library collections. The client shall indemnify the Northern Territory Library against any action taken by the copyright owner(s) against Northern Territory Library arising in any way whatsoever from the publication of or use of materials by or on behalf of the client where the client has not sought copyright clearance.

About Copyright

The following copyright information has been developed by the National and State Libraries of Australasia (NSLA) as an information guide for library users about copyright in library collections. 

What is copyright?

If a work is still in copyright, you may be infringing the owner's rights if you use their work without first obtaining permission.

Copyright is a legal right that gives copyright owners the right to control certain activities with their work. These activities include:

  • copying 
  • publishing in print or online
  • performing
  • adapting

The National and State Libraries Australasia (NSLA) position statement on copyright for clients includes information on Commonwealth copyright, duration of copyright, fair dealing and orphan works.

Who owns copyright?

Library & Archives NT does not own the copyright of most material in its collections. Copyright ownership is distinct from physical ownership. For example, even though the Library holds a painting in the collection, the Library does not necessarily have the right to provide you with a copy of it. Permission to copy and use material needs to be obtained from the copyright owner. We can, in some cases, provide information to help you contact a copyright owner. 

The default rule in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) is that copyright in a work is owned by its creator or maker. However, this basic position can be changed in various ways:

  • copyright owners can transfer their copyright, where an author assigns copyright to a publisher or it is assigned Library & Archives NT
  • if a creator made the work as part of their job, the employer will generally own copyright
  • for some commissioned items, the commissioner is deemed to be the copyright owner
  • if a copyright owner dies, their copyright forms part of their estate and can therefore be bequeathed by will
  • if a licence for use is granted under a Creative Commons licence
  • the relevant government owns copyright in works made by, or under the direction or control of, an Australian federal or state government agency
  • it is possible for more than one copyright to exist in a single item. For example, in a music CD, the composer may own copyright in the music, the lyricist in the words, a photographer in a photo used on the cover, and a production company in the way the music was recorded
  • it is also possible to have more than one owner of a single copyright, for instance when two or more individuals co-author a book.

More information on ownership of copyright is available from the Australian Copyright Council.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright protection in Australia generally lasts for the life of the creator, plus 70 years. There are factors that can change this. Copyright duration can depend on the type of material and the date it was published, performed or exhibited.

Calculating the copyright term for a given work can be complicated because copyright legislation has changed over time. You may need to look at previous copyright statutes to work out whether older material is still protected by copyright.

Amendments to the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) which came into force on 1 January 2019, removed copyright in perpetuity for unpublished material. This harmonised terms for published and unpublished material.

More detailed information about the duration of copyright is available from:

Once copyright of an item expires, copyright - related restrictions on its use cease. This is sometimes referred to as being in the public domain. Some general examples of where this applies are:

  • a book published during the author's life, where the author died before 1955
  • photographs taken before 1955
  • sound recording made before 1955 and never made public.

Library & Archives NT may restrict use of material in the public domain because it is fragile, culturally sensitive, or subject to conditions in a donor rights agreement.

Why do we have a copyright system?

There are many explanations for why we have a copyright system, including that it:

  • provides an important incentive for the creation and distribution of intellectual and creative works
  • rewards authors, artists, and creators for the fruits of their labours. 

What types of works does copyright cover?

In Australia, copyright applies to both published and unpublished works and protection is automatic as long as certain basic requirements are met. There is no copyright registration process and an individual does not need to claim copyright by including the copyright symbol © and their name on a work (such as © Author Name 2015) . Copyright is not dependent on aesthetic or literary merit and protects materials that are utilitarian, short or mundane.

Copyright applies to many different types of works in our collections, including:

  • Architectural plans
  • Art works
  • Books, newspapers and periodicals
  • Broadcasts (both sound and television)
  • Choreography
  • Compilations and databases
  • Computer games
  • Design, drawings and plans
  • Diaries and letters
  • Films
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Musical scores
  • Photographs
  • Plays
  • Published editions
  • Screenplays and scripts
  • Software
  • Song lyrics
  • Sound recordings
  • Websites


What are moral rights?

Australian copyright law sets out a separate and additional set of rights called moral rights.

Moral rights give certain creators and performers the right:

  • to have their authorship or performanceship attributed to them;
  • not to have their work falsely attributed to someone else; and
  • not to have their work treated in a derogatory way.

Moral rights should always be considered if you are re-using and altering works, (for example, through editing, cropping or colourising an image). You should ensure that attributions are clear and reasonably prominent.

Moral rights generally last until the copyright in the work expires. Moral rights cannot be transferred or waived, although creators can provide written consents to acts that would otherwise infringe their moral rights.

Furthermore, there are defences to moral rights infringement, for instance, where the infringing act is reasonable in all the circumstances.

More information on moral rights is available from the Australian Copyright Council.

Which copyright law applies?

In Australia, copyright law including all amendments, is set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth)

Australian copyright law applies to any copying done in Australia, even if the owner of copyright in the work you are copying is a citizen of another country. This is because there are reciprocal arrangements between countries which mean that copyright in foreign works is also recognised in Australia (and vice versa). 

If you are not located in Australia and you are copying digitised content from the Library & Archives NT website, you must follow the copyright law of the country in which you reside.