The laws of sharing media online in Australia

by The FindLaw Team

The ease in which Australians are able to access and share movies, music and other media files on the internet has put the issue of online piracy squarely within the crosshairs of law makers. Entertainment companies fiercely protect their intellectual property, and it’s important for readers to be aware of what some of the laws are in relation to how an individual consumes music and movies online. 

Copying music and film online

There are a number of ways that music, movies and other types of media files can be shared, and the ease for which media can be distributed on the internet can give rise to copyright infringement for individuals.

Broadly speaking, copyright infringement occurs when the copyright owner has not granted permission for a person to share the relevant file to another person, such as via a peer-to-peer network for example.

A person may be deemed to have infringed on copyright if they have distributed the work that is inconsistent to the licensing agreement of a website or online service. Therefore, for any person worried about copyright infringement, should closely consider the terms of the licence to determine how the content may be used.

Part III Division 3 of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (the Act) outlines the actions that do not constitute infringement of copyright, that includes fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review, parody or satire, or reporting the news, which are a few limited exceptions.

Downloading and manipulating images online

The wide use of images on social media platforms also presents unique challenges to copyright law.

A person may be deemed to have infringed on the copyright of an image if a substantial part of the image or photograph has been copied. In determining whether the copyright of the image has been infringed, the image itself is the consideration rather than the website for which the image was located.

One of the more popular exercises relating to the use of images on social media is the altering or adding to an existing image, be it a meme or some other use. However, it should be highlighted that undertaking such actions may require the permission of the copyright holder to do so.

In addition to obtaining permission to alter copyrighted work, one other popular misconception is that by altering either an image or a literary work by at least 20 percent will protect the person from copyright infringement – which is incorrect. In fact, alterations to copyrighted material may in fact breach the person’s moral rights if there is a failure of proper attribution to the owner or the alteration is prejudicial.


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