The right to copy

The Australian Copyright Act is very clear about how the intellectual property of an author is protected

I went to see the Counting Crows at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall recently. For those who maybe haven't heard of them (which is almost everyone I tell this to), they are a Californian band from way back in 1991.

A couple of things occurred that were interesting to me. The first was that from my position at the back of the Concert Hall I could see hundreds of tiny colourful mobile phone screens as the audience filmed the concert. The second was that dotted around the Concert Hall were cameramen apparently also filming the concert. An announcement by the band confirmed that the concert was being streamed live to YouTube.

So the next day, YouTube was full of audience versions of the concert, and also the official version.

The effect on the band's publicity is obvious – rather than prohibiting anyone from taking photos, or locking down the concert so that no possible leaking of it could occur to the outside world, they embraced the new forms of sharing and collaboration, which raises their profile around the world.

But we can't always assume that a content creator (such as a band, writer, publisher or artist) is happy to share their work. As students (and teachers), we need to be careful that the use of another's images or content doesn't violate their copyright. How do we find out?

Well, whether or not the author has indicated that it's their copyright, the work is generally protected. We need to be aware of this, and apart from "Fair Use" provisions under the Copyright Act (eg. using parts for study or research, attributing the author), we should always check with the author that it's okay to use.

A lot of stuff on the Internet now comes under Free for Education or Creative Commons licences, which can allow you to use work for specific purposes, even to copy and distribute it. But unless this is explicitly stated, you're treading a fine line if you think you can copy and use it without their permission.

The Australian Copyright Act is very clear about how the intellectual property of an author is protected, and the Copyright Council of Australia has some great online documents that tell you what you can and can't do with various items, from movies to kitchen recipes.

There are also different copyright laws in most countries, and some are more restrictive than others. So what is legal in one country might not be legal in another.

As a student, you also need to be aware that the use of another student's work – even with their permission – can be considered plagiarism, which is quite a serious academic offence.

Whenever you use anything that someone else has created, it's good manners (and maybe even a legal requirement) that you attribute them as the author.

Having said that, I am happy for you to copy, distribute and otherwise share this post!