Copyright Laws

Public Domain

Public Domain is that repository of all works that for whatever reason are not protected by copyright. As such, they are free for all to use without permission. to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction. This body of information and creativity is  considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which in general anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes.


Copyright (international symbol: ©) is a set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally “the right to copy” an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration. Copyright law only covers the particular form or manner in which ideas or information have been manifested, the “form of material expression”. It is not designed or intended to cover the actual idea, concepts, facts, styles, or techniques which may be embodied in or represented by the copyright work. Copyright law provides scope for satirical or interpretive works which themselves may be copyrighted.

Copyright in Australia

Under Australian Copyright Law, copyright protection is automatic, and no symbol is required. For Artistic works (such as paintings, drawings, cartoons, sculpture, craft work, photographs, maps and plans), copyright lasts from the time the material is created until 70 years after the year of the creator’s death.

For photographs: The period of protection varies according to the type of material. Photographs taken before 1 May 1969 are protected for 70 years from the end of the year they were taken. Photographs taken after 1 May 1969 are protected for 70 years from the year of first publication (that is, when copies are first made available to the public). Other works are generally protected until 70 years after the year of the author’s death.

Copyright – Appropriation & Copyright Law

Artists who use images created by other artists to make new artwork often risk prosecution under the Copyright Act. Even using a small part of another artwork, if it is an essential or distinctive part of the work it came from, can be a copyright infringement. Although the postmodern practice of appropriation has meant that borrowing images from other artworks to make new artworks is widespread, prosecutions of artists for copyright infringements does not appear to be commonplace. This is partly because the modest earnings of most artists would not make prosecution worthwhile.

Copying can also occur where a 3 dimensional form of a 2 dimensional work is created. Eg a 3D model of Vincent’s 2D chair is a good example.

However, there are international precedents that highlight the risks that artists face in infringing copyright. One notable case involved the American artist Jeff Koons who based a series of sculptural works, String of Puppies, on a postcard photograph. In 1992, the photographer successfully sued Koons for copyright infringement and damages. The court based its decision on the obvious similarities between the two works and did not recognise the arguments that Koons presented in his defence, including those relating to the value of appropriation as a valid means of creating new work.

Lily Amah - Lindy LeeArtists whose appropriation of other artworks has been widely discussed include: American artists Jeff Koons and Sherrie Levine and Australian artists Imants Tillers, Juan Davila, Tim Johnson, Lindy Lee, Maria Kozic, Peter Lyssiotis and Anne Zahalka.




Imants Tiller – Inventing Postmodern Appropriation

Tim Johnson – Motives for Appropriation

Lindy Lee and Tim Johnson

Maria Kozic – Pulse Mk2


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