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. 

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.

Determine whether a copyright permission is necessary

It is your responsibility to determine whether the work you want to copy requires copyright permission. Permission from the copyright owner may be necessary where:

  • the material you wish to copy is protected by copyright;
  • your copying is not insubstantial; and,
  • your copying does not fall within an exception in the Copyright Act.

To determine the copyright status of the work you want to copy, we suggest that you first try searching for the work in the Library’s catalogue to see if there is a rights statement for that specific work.

When you are determining whether permission is required, do not forget that multiple copyrights can subsist in the same item. This includes, for instance, where a book includes photographs or illustrations that have separate copyright from the text, potentially requiring you to obtain more than one permission.

If in doubt, it may be best to assume that a work is in copyright and that you need to get permission.

Get permission

If permission is required, you will need to find the copyright owner. To help protect yourself against legal action, you should seek to obtain the copyright owner’s permission in writing before you copy the work. The copyright owner has the right to refuse you permission, to set conditions and/or to ask you to pay a fee for permission.

If you need the Library to undertake the copying for you, particularly in the case of photographs, and your request does not fall within an exception in the Copyright Act, a Library staff member will need to see evidence of the copyright owner’s permission before the copy is made.

Adhere to moral rights

You also have a responsibility to ensure that your copying of a work does not infringe moral rights. For instance, you should credit the work using the author(s) preferred form(s) of attribution. If the author is not known, then ‘author unknown’ is an appropriate description. ‘Anonymous’ should be used where the author intended not to be identified. In no circumstances should you credit the work to someone else or to yourself. You should not treat the work in a derogatory way.

What happens if I infringe copyright?

In cases of copyright infringement, it is usual for the copyright owner to contact the alleged infringer to explain the nature of their complaint. Many disputes are resolved at this stage, and pointing to your good faith may help in such negotiations. However, if you do infringe copyright, the owner has the right to sue you, and a court may order a variety of remedies. Under current law, it is no defence that you did not know you were infringing copyright or that you used reasonable efforts to locate the copyright owner. That said the Copyright Act also makes certain activities a criminal offence.

What can I copy without the copyright owner’s permission?

You do not need to obtain any permissions where:

  • the item was never protected by copyright;
  • copyright has been waived; or,
  • copyright has expired. 

In addition, Australian copyright law allows you to copy in-copyright material in certain circumstances. The provisions of the Copyright Act that set out these circumstances are known as exceptions. If an exception applies, you do not need to ask the copyright owner for permission to undertake acts within its scope.

For example, the fair dealing exceptions can apply where you copy material for the purpose of research, study, criticism, review, parody, satire, reporting the news, or giving legal advice. The Copyright Act expressly states that certain acts constitute fair dealings, such as copying up to 10 per cent or one chapter of a book, or copying one article, for research or study. However in other cases, you will need to consider the elements of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright Act. There are also exceptions which allow some copying by cultural and educational institutions and on behalf of people with print or intellectual disabilities. These are particularly relevant where you ask the library to reproduce collection material and supply a copy to you.

To make a copy, do I need the library’s permission as well as the copyright owner’s permission?

If you copy items from the Library’s collections without seeking any additional permission from us, you accept the responsibility to make sure you do not infringe copyright or moral rights, as set out in the section on ‘Your responsibilities’. If you ask the Library to do the copying for you, you will be asked to complete paperwork that confirms that either the permission of the copyright owner has been obtained or no such permission is necessary (for instance because an exception applies).

Some collection items may have access restrictions that require permission from the Library before you copy them. This permission does not relate to any copyright in the item, but relates to collection management issues, such as the need to ensure that fragile items are handled with care.

We sometimes ask you to seek this permission because we need to check whether any special restrictions apply to the works. A special restriction may apply, for example, because we agreed to a request by a collection donor that they retain control of copying for a certain period, even though they may not own copyright in the works they donated. These restrictions are often requested because the material contains private or sensitive information.

Copying digitised material from the Library’s collections

You may find digital copies of items from the Library’s collections, such as photographs or recorded interviews on the Library’s website. Where this material is out of copyright it may be used freely used and we ask that you acknowledge the Library and the creator.

Use of digital copies of in-copyright material requires a request for permission unless your use falls within one of the exceptions, such as research or study. You need to ask the Library’s permission because a copyright owner may have allowed us to put a copy on our website but not allowed us to authorise uses beyond research or study. When you ask us for permission to copy the material, we will tell you whether copyright or any other restrictions apply