Last updated 16 August 2022

Copyright owners have the right to:

  • reproduce the work in a material form
  • publish the work
  • perform the work in public
  • communicate the work to the public
  • make an adaptation of the work
  • do, in relation to a work that is an adaptation of the first-mentioned work, any of the acts specified above in relation to the first-mentioned work (s 31(1) Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (Copyright Act)).

Right to reproduce

The right of reproduction is the fundamental right of a copyright owner to reproduce or make copies of the work (ss 31(1)(a)(i), 31(1)(b)(i), 85–88 Copyright Act). While reproduction is not defined in the Copyright Act, it includes the means by which copying takes place. For example typing, photocopying and scanning a document into a computer and hand copying would all be considered to be reproduction. Reproduction also includes the making of a sound recording or film of a literary, dramatic or musical work (s 21(1)). In the case of an artistic work, the reproduction of a two-dimensional work into the three dimensional and vice versa is also a reproduction for the purposes of the law (s 21(3)).

Right to publish

The right of publication applies to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. It is the right to divulge a work that has not previously been made public (s 31(1)(a)(ii) Copyright Act). Therefore, it is the right of first publication rather than a general right to distribute or control sale.

Right to communicate to the public

The right of communication to the public allows copyright owners to control how their work is electronically transmitted to the public or made available online. The right is technology neutral and covers a wide range of materials (ss 31(1)(a)(iv), 31(1)(b)(iii), 85(1)(c), 86(c) Copyright Act).

Right to adapt

The right to adapt a work applies to literary, dramatic or musical works. Adaptation means changing the work in some way. In the case of literary works, adaptation can also mean converting the work into another medium or form. For instance, a written story may be adapted by communicating it either partly or wholly in pictures, by translating it into a different language or by producing a dramatic version of a non-dramatic work and vice versa (s 31(1)(a)(vi) Copyright Act).

Right to perform

The right to perform allows the copyright owners of literary, dramatic and musical works to present the work in a public location. It also applies to owners of copyright in sound recordings to allow the work to be heard in public, and owners of copyright in film to allow the work to be seen or heard in public (ss 31(a)(iii), 85(1)(b), 86(b) Copyright Act). Examples of performances include in-house movies for hotel guests and instructional videos to staff before opening hours.


Copyright owners may assign their copyright to another at any time. The new owner, known as the assignee, can then enjoy the exclusive rights of the copyright in a work until copyright expires. Assignment of copyright must be in writing and signed (s 196(3)).


While the copyright owner is able to transfer or assign their works, in practice it is often more profitable for copyright owners to license the use of their works than to sell those works. This practice enables the continuing commercial exploitation of the work during its period of use. Licensing is merely granting permission to another to do the acts that would otherwise infringe copyright. There are two types of licences:

  • Exclusive licences, which must be in writing and signed, grant rights for a particular purpose and provide a guarantee that those rights will not be granted to others (s 10(1)).
  • Non-exclusive licences grant rights for a particular purpose and may be granted to more than one person.