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What is copyright and how does it affect you? Copyright protects the intellectual rights of creators over their works. This means others can’t use it without asking permission and possibly needing to pay. In Australia, copyright usually lasts for 70 years after the creator’s death with some exceptions.

How copyright affects students

As a student, you are protected by fair dealing when using other people’s works such as images for personal research and study. This means when you are using them as a student you can use it for your assignment, but not for your job or personal sale.

Remember, referencing is always required to show who the original creator is. So find a source or even an image you like, make sure to follow the TAFE Queensland referencing guidelines, and you can use that intellectual property for your assignment.

For example, want to use this image of a cake in a hospitality assignment? Reference as below, example uses APA, to enact fair use and be protected from plagiarism.

Chocolate cake

American Heritage Chocolate. (2020). [Chocolate cake] [Stock image]. https://unsplash.com/photos/5K5Nc3AGF1w.

TIP: If you’re confused about how to reference or want someone to check your work, look at our Referencing Guide, ask a question in our Library Live Chat or email your assignment to Ask A Librarian.

Ideas and concepts can't be copyrighted

Copyright only applies when an idea is expressed as a creative work, such as a book or a piece of music.

However, certain sectors have different ways of protecting their ideas. For example:

  • Design rights = In Australia, fashion designers can apply for design rights for their creations that cover the product’s visual appearance.
  • Trademarks = Apple as a business name is trademarked but not copyrighted. It is okay to make a book called ‘The story of my Apple computer taking over the world!’ but you cannot sell a product you’ve made with the Apple name and logo on it.

Copyright can expire

This image of "The Hound of the Baskervilles: another adventure of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902)" by Toronto Public Library Special Collections is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

When copyright expires, a work usually enters the public domain. This means people can use it or modify it without needing to pay for it. Famous examples of works in the public domain works include Shakespeare, Dracula, most of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the works of Jane Austen, and recently The Great Gatsby. In some instances copyright might be extended by an author’s estate (e.g. surviving family) such as the author J. R. R. Tolkein’s work.

Even if the copyright of a work has expired, you still need to reference it in your assignment. Some helpful citation tools are:

Be sure to check the results against the TAFE Queensland referencing guide to make sure they’re correct.

Creative Commons and open access publishing

Some creators allow for greater copyright flexibility by placing Creative Commons licenses on their work. This is not the same as a public domain work, as these licenses allow other people to immediately use and potentially modify the work without removing the creator’s copyright. There are six types of licenses that set varying levels of how a work can be used by others. For more information about Creative Commons, check out the Creative Commons website.

HOT TIP: As well as Creative Commons, some websites such as Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash, have free-to-use images. However these are available under each website’s own license not Creative Commons licenses, so if you’d like to use one always check the website’s terms of use to make sure you are not violating copyright.

Open access publishing is a way researchers publish their findings which does away with people needing to pay or subscribe to read their work. This means information can be more easily accessed, downloaded, and used by people around the world. The Directory of Open Access Journals is one such place that contains multiple open access journals.


Whether you’re an educator or student, if you have any questions about copyright, the TAFE Queensland Library Network is here to help. Further information for staff, including the contact details for the copyright department, can be found on our website and copyright subject guide.

VISIT THE LIBRARY WEBSITE

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