What is copyright and how does it apply to me?

Copyright is an exclusive bundle of rights which protects works from unauthorised use. Copyright is automatic and exists in work once it has been expressed in writing, recorded, or captured. Copyright does not protect ideas, it protects the expression of ideas and exists in works such as literary (books, journals), artistic works (photographs and images), dramatic (plays), musical, cinematographic films, sound recordings and broadcasts.

The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) has a number of exceptions that allow copyright works to be used (copied, scanned or communicated) without the permission of the copyright owner. These exceptions are called ‘fair dealing’. As students, the fair dealing exception for research and study will be used most frequently. You can only use a certain amount of the copyright work under fair dealing. The amounts are:

  • Literary works - 10% or 1 chapter of a book or journal article.
  • Artistic works, Sound Recordings and Films - you must consider if your use is ‘fair’. Fairness is determined based on the purpose and nature of your use, the possibility of obtaining the material commercially, the effect of your use on the potential market for the work and how much of the work you intend to use in relation to the whole of the work. For example if you wish to use a film in your research or study you can only use a small amount of the film and you must consider whether you could obtain the film commercially and whether your use would have an impact on the market before you use the film.

Situations where you DO NOT need to ask for permission

In the following situations you DO NOT need to ask for permission:

  • if you are the copyright owner of the work
  • if the work is in the public domain
  • if you are copying or communicating an insubstantial amount of the work
  • if a license permits the use of the work (such as a Creative Commons license)
  • if a fair dealing exception applies to your work.

Where can I find content to use in my assignment?

You can use portions of images or music in your assignments as long as the source is acknowledged correctly. The library has some guides on where to find content for your assignment, such as images and music. However, you might find it useful to use content that is licensed for your use.

You can find images, videos, artwork, music or other creative content to use in your written assignments and presentations by searching for Creative Commons (CC) materials.

Creative Commons is an international, non-profit organisation aimed at helping everyone share content with each other. They provide free licences and tools to content creators (authors, artists, musicians) that enable you to reuse, remix and share their work legally. Creative Commons makes it easy for you to use images, music, artwork and other content appropriately and attribute correctly. Read more about Creative Commons in Study Smart.

Finding Creative Commons materials

To find CC materials you can:

  1. Search the growing collection of CC content including:
  2. Use a general search engine and filter by usage permissions. For example, Google Advanced Search offers a “usage rights” option.

Using Creative Commons materials in your work

When you use CC licensed material you must provide certain information about the owner/originator, where you found it and the license conditions. A credit (attribution) to a work licensed under CC should:

  • include the title of the work
  • include the name of the creator (artist/photographer)
  • include the URLs where the work is hosted
  • include the type of CC license it is available under
  • include a link to the CC license it is available under
  • keep intact any copyright notice attached to the work

Sometimes it is difficult to locate the real (legal) name of the creator, but check the about section of the website and the copyright notice. If you still cannot find it, use the username or other name given.


A search on the terms “jacaranda and brisbane” was conducted using Flickr, and the option “Commercial use & mods allowed” was selected.

Here is the image found with an example of how it can be attributed.

Exam time! by Jan Smith available at http://flic.kr/p/7ey4aK under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC BY 2.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

As well as the attribution, don’t forget to also reference your image in the reference list of your assignment/presentation according to the referencing/citation style preferred in your faculty.

More on copyright

For more information on copyright see the QUT Copyright Guide or contact the University Copyright Officer.

Creative Commons

For more information about Creative Commons visit Creative Commons