Copyright and your responsibilities

Before making copies of items from the Library’s collection, make sure you have considered whether you have any obligations to the copyright owner.

Do I need permission to copy?

You may need to seek permission from the copyright owner where:

You can begin by checking the copyright status of material described in the catalogue. Copyright status may be undetermined if data in the Library’s catalogue record is incomplete or inaccurate.

We endeavour to provide correct and up to date copyright information on all items in the collection. If you believe an item has incorrect copyright information, please contact us on our online feedback form.

Further information on whether permission is required is available from the Australian Copyright Council.

Information on copyright provided by the Library does not constitute legal advice. If in doubt, seek legal advice before copying a work.

Copying material from the Library’s published collections

If you copy or download items from the Library’s collection without seeking any additional permission, you accept the responsibility to make sure you do not infringe copyright or moral rights

If you ask the Library to copy an item for you, you will need to complete paperwork that confirms that either:

If you need to reproduce, then publish, material from the Library’s collection, and it is still in copyright, use this form to request permission to reproduce.

Material with additional copying restrictions

You may need to seek permission from the Library to copy some items in the Library’s collection, even where the items are not in copyright. This is because some items have additional restrictions for copying.

The items are often original or unpublished works. The nature of these restrictions may be due to:

  • preservation concerns
  • conditions of acquisition or donors’ requests
  • it contains culturally sensitive information
  • the operation of other laws such as defamation and privacy.

Library staff may need to make copies for you where the items are particularly fragile, or valuable. You can order copies of unique, rare or fragile material through the Library’s copy ordering service.

We are happy to help you understand if any special conditions apply to material you want copied.

Copying works with Indigenous cultural content

Copyright law applies to Indigenous works in the same way as it applies to other works. Indigenous works may have additional legal and cultural protections, for instance because they include secret or sacred information, or information obtained without the consent of the relevant Indigenous people.

For this reason, the Library has developed policies for its Indigenous collections. Before you access or reproduce some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material, you may be required to seek cultural clearances from:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • families
  • individuals
  • organisations.

Should cultural clearances be required, the Library will assist you to understand the process involved in meeting your obligations to consult with Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders.

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

Material not protected by copyright

You do not need to obtain any permissions where:

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

Material that is in copyright

Australian copyright law allows you to copy in-copyright material in certain circumstances. The provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) 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 1968 (Cth) expressly states that certain acts constitute fair dealings, such as copying up to 10% or one chapter of a book, or copying one article, for research or study.

In other cases, you will need to consider the elements of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

Key exceptions

There are also key 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 copy collection material for you.

How do I find copyright owners?

If you are seeking to make copies of material from the Library’s collection and no exceptions to the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) apply, you should obtain the copyright owner’s permission first. This will help protect you against legal action. Copyright owners have the right to refuse you permission, to set conditions and/or to ask you to pay a fee for permission.

Books and other printed material

To find copyright owners for books and other printed material, try checking the back of the title page, or the Library’s catalogue. The statement will often look like this: © John Smith 2009.

To obtain permission, we suggest you first try contacting the publisher.  The publisher may have the contact details of the copyright owner or be able to forward your request.

To find details for an author or publisher, try:

Original and unpublished material

If you wish to find the copyright owner of an original or unpublished work in the Library’s collection, please use the Library’s Ask a Librarian service. We may be able to provide you with the copyright owner’s contact details.

Agencies that represent copyright owners

Instead of contacting the copyright owner directly, you may wish to contact an agency that represents copyright owners. These agencies can authorise you, on behalf of the copyright owner, to copy, perform or broadcast a work, usually for a fee. Some examples are:

  • CAL (Copyright Agency Limited) for books, essays and articles
  • Viscopy for visual works
  • APRA/AMCOS for music.

The Australian Copyright Council has information on Getting Permission and Copyright Infringement.

What if the copyright owner is hard to trace?

It may be difficult to find a copyright owner, especially when copyright has passed to heirs or copyright was owned by a company that has gone out of business.

  • To find heirs named in an Australian creator’s will, contact the Probate Division of the Supreme Court in the State where the creator died.
  • To find information about what happened to the assets (copyright is an asset) of an Australian company which has gone out of business, try the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

If you are unable to identify or locate a copyright owner, you will need to decide whether you are willing to proceed with your proposed use, and hence risk infringing copyright.

  • Some people decide to proceed, but with a statement inviting copyright owners to come forward if they believe their material has been reproduced.
  • If you decide to follow this course, it may be wise to keep detailed records of your attempts to clear rights, and to speak with a lawyer about your exposure to risk.
  • Under the current law, the fact that you have made good faith attempts to identify and contact the copyright owner does not protect you from legal action under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth).

Adhering 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.

The Australian Copyright Council has information on Copyright Infringement.

Acknowledging use of Library material

If you publish or make public copies of material from the Library’s collection, please acknowledge that the material is from the collections of the State Library of NSW.

Individual Library catalogue records may contain more specific acknowledgments of authors, creators or copyright holders.