Copyright exceptions

Copyright is largely concerned with permissions for use - granting it and requesting it. However, there are several circumstances where permission is not required.

Australian copyright law allows for a few circumstances where permission to use certain amounts of material is not required. These are called “fair dealing” provisions and include the use of material for:

Research or study: Staff and students can use this provision when using copyrighted material as part of their research and study activities. For example, you might copy content as part of the research process when preparing a paper, or for general reading to maintain current awareness in your field of expertise. This also extends to using copyrighted content in your submitted coursework.

Criticism or review: Staff and students can use this provision when copying and communicating material for criticism or review. For example, a lecturer might comment critically on material in a published paper, academics might communicate material for the purpose of criticism and discussion, and students might re-use film clips to critique them as part of an assignment. Using materials to provide evidence or as an illustration of your argument does not count under this provision.

Access for a person with a disability: See our student accessibility page for more information.

In order for the dealing to be ‘fair’ it is unlikely you are permitted to copy material in its entirety, therefore copying limits are likely to apply. For more information, see Fair Dealing: What can I use without permission?

There is a section of the Copyright Act known as the Flexible Dealing exception (200AB). This section allows libraries and educational institutions more flexibility with use of copyrighted material, without requiring permission. Types of use included anything that would otherwise constitute an infringement, including copying all of a copyrighted work, format shifting (e.g. from VHS to DVD), performing, or translating. This use can also support people with disabilities if the “fair dealing” copyright exception (see above) does not apply.

The following factors apply when relying on this exception:

  • The use is by, or made on behalf of, an educational institution or library;
  • The use is for an educational purpose or a library service;
  • The use is a “special case” - meaning something exceptional and not the norm;
  • The use is not covered by other exceptions or provisions (e.g. fair dealing)
  • The use does not “conflict with a normal exploitation of the work” - meaning it won’t interfere with any potential profit the copyright holder might make off their work;
  • The use does not “unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests” of the copyright holder - meaning only copying what is necessary, attributing the author correctly and upholding moral rights;
  • The use is non-commercial in nature.

For more information, please contact the Copyright Officer.

A license is a way for creators to proactively grant permission for use of a copyrighted work. If you have a license to use the material, you wouldn’t need to request permission for every use. More information about the licenses Curtin participates in can be found in the licenses at Curtin and Creative Commons licenses sections.

A provision in the Copyright Act (section 200 1A) allows staff and students to use copyrighted material in exams and graded assessments, either in the questions or the answers, without needing permission. All types of copyrighted material can be used, and there is no restriction on the amount that can be used. However, if copyrighted material is used in exam papers, access should be restricted to Curtin staff and students only.

Creative Commons licenses give users more flexible and open access to copyrighted work without needing to ask for permission. It is increasingly common to find Creative Commons-licensed or open journal articles, images, and documents online. You can also use material that has aged into the “public domain”. For more information, see the Creative Commons, Open Access and the Public Domain page.

The Copyright Act refers often to the use of “substantial” amounts of the work. Technically, you could use an “insubstantial” amount of work without being restricted by copyright rules. However, it’s not clear exactly how much of a work can be used to be considered substantial or insubstantial. The term “insubstantial” is more about the quality of what is used rather than the quantity, and can depend on the proportion of the amount used. For example, while a few lines or a quote from a book might be considered insubstantial, a few lines from a song might not be. Overall, try to use as little of the work as possible to qualify for the “insubstantial” exception.