Copyright or Wrong?

Sep 1, 2016 | Business Basics


Copyright or Wrong? You work it out with this short introduction to the rules, by Sharon Givoni*.

Content on the internet is not ‘public domain’ and intellectual property rights exist in the technological age. Potentially serious consequences exist when it comes to using and appropriating content found online without permission.

In this blog post, Intellectual Property lawyer Sharon Givoni explains that you can’t be relaxed about the law when posting on the internet.

Rule No. 1: Don’t copy!

It is a myth that whatever is on the internet is free for the taking. In reality, designs, images and written works (and indeed any content) published online are usually protected under copyright law.

The Copyright Act gives copyright owners the exclusive right to post their work online and to ‘exploit’ that work in any way they wish.  The owner has the right to sell or use the design, publish the work on the internet or authorise others to use it.

If you use a design without permission, this may constitute an infringement of that owner’s rights.

In Australia, if you cannot identify the copyright owner and can show that you made effort to locate them, this will not safeguard you against a claim of infringement.

How close is too close?

There is no rule that if you alter a work by 10% (or some other arbitrary amount) that you will avoid copyright infringement.

Courts will assess whether infringement has occurred will consider each situation on a case-by-case basis.

Don’t get copied!

If you post your designs online, you are exposing yourself to the risk that anyone around the world may copy and use your work without your knowledge or permission.

If someone overseas has reproduced your designs, it could be very difficult and expensive to get them to stop, especially if their laws surrounding copyright differ from ours in Australia.

What can you do to protect your work from would-be infringers?

The best thing to do is to be proactive and practical in protecting your designs.

You can use the “©” Copyright symbol on your website or other online space, followed by your name and date. This lets others know that you own the work and that if anyone else wants to use what they have found on your website they need to obtain permission from you first.

Other measures, including inserting watermarks or digital marks on to images, inserting metadata or uploading low-resolution images, may also limit the risk of someone using your work for their own purposes.

Free to use

The copyright of a work expires after the life of the author plus an additional 70 years, and is released into the “public domain” and free to use after this time.

Generally, it is always safest to ask the author personally before reproducing anything you find on the internet. Be sure they are happy with what you are reproducing it for, even if you think it is ‘free to use’.

Social media

While social media can be a useful platform for the global distribution and recognition of work, the downside is the potential for the work to be copied, changed and circulated broadly with no attribution back to the owner.

Unattributed social media posts could result in lost revenue and a lack of recognition.

The general rule with social media policies is that you will own copyright in your own content that you upload. When signing up to a social media platform, you would have agreed to their terms of use and most terms of use include granting the site operator a license to use your work in different ways.

Your online story

What you post on social media, your own blog or website may potentially infringe someone’s copyright, amount to defamation, mislead or deceive people, or be subject to contractual obligations.

Digital content is frequently archived, meaning that computer forensics experts can retrieve content posted online years later – even after it has been ‘deleted’.

As the saying goes, ‘the internet never forgets’.


While using the internet carries benefits and risks for designers, having an online presence raises a raft of legal considerations in its own right.

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said, ‘the riskiest thing is to take no risks’.

Certainly, when it comes to creative businesses and their need to establish an online presence, this statement rings true.

However, a little bit of knowledge about what those risks are can save a lot of heartache in the future.


  • If you find a design on the internet, and slightly alter it to make it ‘your own’, you could be infringing someone else’s copyright.
  • Take practical proactive measures to stop others from copying your work.
  • Uploading your content onto a social media platform will usually give that site a licence to do what they like with it, although most social media platforms have policies in place to help protect the copyright of their users.
  • Statements made on social media about competitors can be found to be misleading or defamatory. Think before you type.

*About the author

Sharon Givoni is a Melbourne-based intellectual property lawyer. Her firm acts for clients in all areas of business and has a large client base in the creative fields. Known for their sharp and commercial focus this straight-talking law firm deals with all areas of copyright, trademarks, designs, commercial agreements and disputes. Sharon can be contacted by email ( or called on 0410 557 907 or 03 9527 1334. Her website for “Sharon Givoni Consulting” is located at


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