Music Copyright Australia

Sound Recordings

Generally, the first owners of copyright in a sound recording of a live performance will be both the performer(s) and the person who owns the recording medium (such as the master tape). 
The right of performers to own a share of copyright in the sound recording was introduced as a result of the Australia–US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). However, performers have very limited rights in relation to recordings made before 1 January 2005, and are not entitled to exercise these rights where this would interfere with the rights of those who already owned copyright in those sound recordings. 
Even for recordings made on or after 1 January 2005, performers' rights are limited. In particular, performers will not own a share in the copyright in the sound recording if: 

the performance was in the course of their employment; or
the recording was commissioned (for example, a record company engages a production studio to produce a master recording).

What Are Your Rights As A Copyright Owner?

Owners of copyright in literary and musical "works" (such as music and song lyrics) have the exclusive right to: 

reproduce the work (including by photocopying, copying by hand, filming, recording and scanning)
make the work public for the first time
communicate the work to the public (for example, via fax, email, broadcasting, cable or the internet)
perform the work in public (this includes performing a work live, or playing a recording or showing a film containing the work, in a non-domestic situation)
make an adaptation (for example, a translation or dramatised version of a literary work, a translation or “non-dramatic” version of a dramatic work, or an arrangement or transcription of a musical work)

Owners of copyright in films and sound recordings have the exclusive right to copy their material. In addition, there are rights relating to: 

showing films and playing recordings in public
communicating films and sound recordings to the public using any form of technology (via email, broadcasting, cable or the internet, for example)
renting sound recordings

In the music industry, the following terms are often used: 

mechanical right: refers to the right to record a song onto record, cassette or compact disc
synchronisation right: refers to the right to use music on a soundtrack of a film or video
performing right: refers to the right to perform in public and to otherwise communicate the work to the public

Making Money From Your Copyright

Basically, copyright owners make money by assigning or licensing rights in return for payment. For example, composers and songwriters may assign or license certain rights to a music publisher (for example, mechanical, synchronisation and printing rights) in return for a share of the income. Most composers and songwriters also become members of the relevant copyright collecting society, such as APRA (which licenses public performance and communication of music and song lyrics). Performers will also generally join PPCA (which licenses the public playing and broadcasting of sound recordings and some communication, such as "music on hold" for telephone systems). 

When Is Copyright Infringed?

Generally, copyright is infringed if someone uses copyright material in one of the ways reserved to the copyright owner without permission. Using part of a work may infringe copyright if that part is important to the work. It need not be a large part of the work. For example, permission is generally needed to sample music. 
There are, however, situations in which copyright material may be used without permission, under special exceptions in the Copyright Act. The special exceptions include fair dealing with copyright material for research or study, for criticism or review and for parody and satire. There are also special provisions which allow the recording of cover versions of works which have previously been commercially released (provided a royalty is paid), and special provisions for the use of copyright material by educational institutions, governments and libraries. 
New exceptions were introduced into the Copyright Act in 2007 allowing certain "personal uses" of copyright material – including taping from TV and individuals copying recordings they own. These are very narrow and subject to specific limitations (see generally the Australian Copyright Council's information sheet Copyright Amendment Act 2006.

For further information, see the reference.

Copyright Collecting Societies

Copyright collecting societies are not-for-profit organisations which license or administer certain uses of copyright material on behalf of their members. The licence fees collected are distributed to members. 
Some collecting societies also collect and distribute fees under "statutory licences". These are set up within the Copyright Act, and allow use of copyright material for certain special purposes – such as copying by educational institutions or governments. 
Most of the collecting societies listed below have reciprocal relationships with collecting societies overseas. This means that an Australian collecting society is generally able to license the works of Australian copyright owners as well as the works of copyright owners who are members of, or affiliated with, overseas collecting societies with which it has agreements. Similarly, use of Australian music overseas is generally licensed by overseas collecting societies which pass on the fees to the appropriate Australian society. 


When a song is played in public or broadcast, permission is needed from the copyright owner. Because it is impractical for each individual songwriter to be contacted every time a song is played, non-profit "collecting societies" have been set up in most countries to license the performance, broadcast and cable transmission of songs on behalf of the composers, songwriters and music publishers. In Australia, the relevant collecting society is APRA. APRA is also the first point of contact in relation to licensing the "communication" of music and lyrics over the internet (e.g. webcasting). 
Composers, songwriters and music publishers join APRA, and APRA becomes the owner of the public performance, broadcast and cable transmission rights. There is no joining fee. APRA collects licence fees from broadcasters and from venues where songs are performed. APRA also licenses a variety of online uses of music and lyrics. The money collected is then paid to the copyright owners twice a year. APRA's head office is in Sydney: Locked Bag 3665, St Leonards NSW 2065; phone (02) 9935 7900. It has branch offices in most capital cities. 

AMCOS is the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society. Among other things, it administers a licence scheme for cover versions, and also offers various miscellaneous licenses which involve the reproduction of music and, in some cases, recordings. AMCOS' reproduction licensing is administered by APRA. 
For further information, see the article on APRA|AMCOS on this page. 

The Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) is an organisation of record companies which licenses the broadcast and public performance, and some forms of communication, of sound recordings on behalf of its members. 
PPCA distributes most of the money it collects to record companies, but it also distributes some direct to the performers on the recordings. PPCA's contact details are as follows: PO Box Q20, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney NSW 2000; phone (02) 8569 1100. 
Christian Music Collecting Societies
Many publishers of Christian music are not members of APRA, but instead are members of one of the following collecting societies: 

Christian Copyright Licensing international CCLI

CCLI is an international organisation originating in the USA, which licenses rights over Christian music published by its members and provides a range of worship resources. Its Australian contact details are: CCL Asia-Pacific Pty Ltd, PO Box 6644, Baulkham Hills Business Centre NSW 2153; phone (02) 9894 5386; toll free 1800 635 474. 

MediaCom is an Australia–New Zealand organisation which licenses rights over Christian music published by its members (LicenSing) and provides a range of worship resources. Its Australian contact details are: 14 Eton Rd Keswick SA 5035; phone (08) 8371 1399; toll free 1800 811 311. 

Word of Life international

Word of Life International is a copyright collection organisation for religious music. It operates in Australasia and the South Pacific. Its Australian contact details are: PO Box 345 Mirboo North VIC 3871; phone (03) 5664 9245. 

Current Issues

Creative Commons and Standardised Licences

In recent years there has been a lot of publicity about free-use licences such as the standardised licences promoted by Creative Commons. While the hype can be very attractive, it is important to bear in mind the following points. 

The “human readable” summaries from CC concerning some of its licences are very misleading, so before offering your work under a CC licence, make sure you read and understand the full “legal code” which goes with each licence
A lot of the hype about CC licences may not apply to your circumstances – before adopting one, you need to make sure you understand what it can and can’t achieve for you
Putting a CC licence on your work will generally mean you won’t get paid for what you’ve created
Once you’ve used a CC licence on something you have created, you cannot change or revoke the licence for that work
Big companies and multinationals may have more to gain from creators using CC licences than creators do
CC licences are not the only way in which you can allow people to use your work for free. Other licensing approaches can more easily be tailored to your particular situation

If you are a professional creator, you will almost certainly be better off with a licence crafted to meet your concerns and situation than a Creative Commons licence, even if you are licensing your material for free. 
For more information, see the Australian Copyright Council's information sheet Creative Commons Licences

Private Copying

As a result of the 2006 amendments to the Copyright Act, there are now limited provisions allowing people to make copies for private use. The provisions permit: 

"time-shifting" (recording from TV and radio for watching or listening at a more convenient time) – provided the recording is not sold, rented or lent to anyone outside the family or household of the person who made the recording, nor played or shown in public nor broadcast;
"space-shifting" (copying a sound recording from a CD you own to play on a device you own, such as an iPod or car CD player) – provided the copy is not made from a pirate CD, a download from the internet of a radio broadcast or similar program, an unauthorised download or other infringing copy, and provided the copy is not sold, rented or lent to anyone outside the family or household of the person who owns the CD, nor played or shown in public nor broadcast; and
"format-shifting" (copying a book, photograph or video you own into another format, such as a digital file) – provided that no more than one copy is made in that format, the copy is not sold, rented or lent to anyone outside the family or household of the person who owns the original, no copies are made for other people and the owner of the original does not give it away

For more information on the amendments, see the Australian Copyright Council's information sheet Copyright Amendment Act 2006.

Broadcast Royalty Cap

The fees payable by broadcasters to owners of copyright in sound recordings (usually record companies) for broadcasting sound recordings are currently subject to a "cap": 1% of the gross earnings of the broadcaster. In practice, the amount is much less than 1%, as royalties are not payable to record companies for the broadcasting of recorded music from a number of countries, including the US. The government has stated that it proposes to remove the 1% cap, and replace it with an obligation to pay "equitable remuneration" and that, if broadcasters and copyright owners could not agree on "equitable remuneration", the matter would be decided by the Copyright Tribunal. 
The proposal would not affect the separate royalties payable to APRA for broadcasting music. Those royalties are not subject to the cap provision (and are payable for US recordings of music within APRA's repertoire or the repertoire of APRA's international affiliates). A discussion paper is available from the Attorney-General's website.

What the Australian Copyright Council Can Do For You

The Australian Copyright Council is an independent not-for-profit organisation. We provide information, advice and training about copyright in Australia. Our publications include practical guides and discussion papers. We also do research, and make submissions on copyright policy issues. 
For further information about music and copyright see this reference. Refer to this reference for a huge range of online information about copyright.
If you are a creator (such as a composer or songwriter) and have a specific question about copyright, you may be eligible for legal advice from the Copyright Council. Please read the relevant information sheet before contacting us, as these answer most common questions. For information about our advice service, and to contact us, see reference.

Australian Copyright Council

The Australian Copyright Council is a non-profit organisation whose objectives are to: 

assist creators and other copyright owners to exercise their rights effectively
raise awareness in the community about the importance of copyright
identify and research areas of copyright law which are inadequate or unfair
seek changes to law and practice to enhance the effectiveness and fairness of copyright
foster co-operation amongst bodies representing creators and owners of copyright

Note: Note: The information provided on this website is only a guide to the broad laws in regards to copyright | distribution | publishing | or licensing of a sound recording. The intention is to try to help artists make a guided decision. It's advised to check copywriter laws in your jurisdiction or seek a music attorney. Copyright laws are broad and complicated if you have any doubts, you should seek legal advice. We don't proclaim to be music law experts. We do, however, try our to give you some helpful insight to guide you on your musical journey.