Copyright Infringement

What is Copyright Infringement?

Infringement of copyright can happen when works – such as paintings, books, computer software, films and music – are reproduced or communicated (including communication over the Internet) without permission from the copyright owners. Infringement can also occur when works such as plays and films are performed or screened without permission from the copyright owner. A person who sells infringing versions of a work, even if somebody else made them, is also in breach of copyright, as is a person who authorizes someone else to make an infringement. If a work is very distinctive and original, reproducing part of it may be a breach of copyright.

On the other hand, because ideas are not protected by copyright, making a work based on the idea behind someone else’s work may not infringe copyright. An example of this is where a work is made by following a set of instructions.


Some examples of activities that involve copyright infringement (where the material is in copyright term) are where:

A company buys 100 licenses from a computer software developer and then issues 200 copies of the software to its employees without permission from the developer; photographs or computer images of an artwork are reproduced and distributed, in hard copy or over the Internet, without permission from the copyright owner; music or computer software CDs are ‘burnt’ without permission and then given away or sold; or a script for a play is interpreted and performed without permission from the copyright owner.

There are many different ways copyright owners may find their copyright has been infringed. For example, in the music industry, infringing activities include: bootlegging – where recordings are made of live performances without the performers’ consent; piracy – the illegal copying of music products that have been released without permission from the copyright owner. Common ways this is done are by copying music onto or from a cassette, CD, a hard drive or the Internet. Pirate products are not necessarily packaged in the same way as the original, as opposed to counterfeit products (see below); counterfeiting – involves duplication of both the music product and of its packaging. For this reason unwitting buyers are less able to recognize counterfeit copies than is the case with some pirate copies.


What are the different types of remedy to protect copyright owners?

Civil or criminal actions can be brought against people or organizations that infringe copyright. The type of action taken depends on the nature of the infringement. A civil action is one that is between two or more private people, while a criminal action relates to infringements that impact on a wider community and is initiated by the Crown.

The Copyright Act 1968 defines criminal offences to include the sale, importation or distribution of infringing reproductions. The Act also defines as offences the public performance or screening of works in entertainment venues and the transmission of computer programs, if these are done without permission from copyright owners. In some circumstances, it is also a criminal offence to own equipment that is used to make infringing copies of copyright material to be sold.

Civil actions often involve a copyright owner suing a person or organization that has infringed copyright for the income that the copyright owner lost as a result of the infringement.

Copyright owners also have procedural assistance in relation to some elements of copyright infringement. The Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Act 2003 (which came into operation on royal assent on 15 April 2003) provides civil and criminal presumptions supporting proof of subsistence and ownership of copyright to be drawn from labels and marks and from information in foreign certificates of copyright registration. A civil presumption is also provided through citation of each of the owners and transactions in the relevant ‘chain of title’ of the copyright.


What are the possible penalties for people who infringe copyright?

The maximum penalty for a person who is guilty of a criminal offence is $60 500 or five years imprisonment. A corporation may be fined up to $302 500.

If a person or corporation advertises infringing copies of copyright material for sale this is also a criminal offence. The maximum penalty for such advertising for an individual is $1650, or six months imprisonment, and for a corporation is $16 500.

The Copyright Act also provides for increased penalties in civil actions which involve the digitization of analogue material.

The new Act Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Act 2003 introduced a range of amendments dealing with copyright enforcement. They apply criminal penalties to the advertising of all infringing copies of copyright material, not just computer programs, and raised the monetary penalty for importation of infringing copies. The criminal sanction for infringement of copyright by importation is increased by $55 000 for corporations (to a maximum of $357 500 per offence) and $11 000 for individuals (to a maximum of $71 500 per offence). The Copyright Act also provides for an increase in the maximum penalties which may apply for the illegal digitization of analogue material.

Civil actions can result in a number of repercussions for people who infringe copyright including; being made to compensate copyright owners for lost income; having equipment that has been used to make infringing copies taken away by the copyright owner; and/or being subject to a court order that is aimed at stopping further infringement.

The Copyright Amendment (Parallel Importation) Act 2003, provides extra factors to be considered in the award of additional damages. These factors are the deterrence of similar infringements of copyright and the defendant’s conduct subsequent to becoming aware of alleged infringements. This legislation also provides for the Federal Magistrates Court to have jurisdiction in various civil matters. One of the main benefits of the Federal Magistrates Court having jurisdiction will be its availability as a quick, relatively cheap, forum for resolving routine cases.

In situations where infringing material is being imported from overseas, the Australian Customs Service may also be able to seize copies in anticipation of a court action by the copyright owner.


Can I copy without permission sometimes?

There are exceptions to copyright that allow people to make copies of works in certain instances without the permission of the copyright owners. For example, people can make copies for study purposes: of single articles from journals; of single chapters from books; or of up to ten per cent of other material without permission from copyright owners. This type of exception to copyright is known as ‘fair dealing’.

Other cases where dealings with copyright material without permission
are allowed include:

  • where works are reproduced for criticism or review
  • where works are reproduced for news reporting
  • where computer programs are reproduced in making backups.

In other instances, libraries, educational institutions and governments can make reproductions of material without permission. Often, however, they will still need to pay a fee to the copyright owner. Generally, a copyright collecting society collects these fees and then distributes them to the copyright owner.



Information Source:

Quote: Akeel Shah (

“…Canada has lost more than 14,000 jobs and suffers $7 billion in annual economic losses in the software industry alone. For Canada’s music industry, the rise of file-swapping coincided with a 41 percent – or $541 million — decrease in retail sales of pre-recorded CDs and cassettes…”