Who gets copyright?

Contributed by Australian Copyright Council and current to May 2022

The general rule under the Copyright Act is that copyright will belong to the person who created the copyright material (s 35 for works and ss 97-100 for other subject matter). However, there are some exceptions to this rule as set out below.


An employer will own copyright in any material their employee creates in the course of their employment. Freelance artists and contractors who create material on commission for a client are not usually considered to be employees.

For employed staff creating material for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals, the employer will own most of the copyright, but the employee will usually own copyright for limited purposes (photocopying and publication in books).

Further information for journalists may be found in the Australian Copyright Council fact sheet Journalists & Copyright.

Freelance photographers, engravers and people creating portraits

Freelance artists and contractors will generally own copyright in the material they create, and their client will be able to use the material under licence for the purpose it was commissioned.

Some exceptions to this rule are where:
  • a person commissions an artist to create material for private or domestic purpose (e.g. wedding photographs, family portraits). The commissioning person will be the copyright owner, or
  • there is an agreement that modifies copyright ownership.
For further information on other commissioned materials, see the Australian Copyright Council fact sheet Ownership of Copyright.

State, Territory or Federal Government

The state, territory or Federal Government will usually own copyright in material created, or first published by it or under its direction or control. Local governments are not included. See the Australian Copyright Council fact sheets Ownership of Copyright and Government: Commonwealth, State & Territory for further details..

Copyright may be assigned (i.e. transferred) from one copyright owner to another (s 196). A legally effective assignment must be in writing and signed by or on behalf of the owner of copyright. It is common for a copyright owner to seek payment to sell their copyright to another person.

For further information, see the Australian Copyright Council fact sheet Assigning and Licensing Rights.

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