Personal liability for copyright infringement

29 April 2014

An important reminder to be careful about reusing content you find on websites - you could find yourself personally liable for the costs resulting from breach of copyright laws.

It's a common misunderstanding that content, including images, video and audio, found on the internet is in the public domain and therefore not subject to copyright laws. In fact, content published on the internet is subject to the same laws as content published in any other medium. So, if a University staff member copies content from a website and reuses it without permission, they are breaching copyright and the copyright owner is entitled to pursue compensation.

Clauses 5 (f) and 7 of the University on the use of ICT Resources policy places responsibility squarely on the individual staff member who has made the breach.

Recently a member of staff copied an award-winning photograph from a website, reusing it on a University website without permission or acknowledgement of the photographer. The photographer sent the University an invoice for $2000. The Office of General Counsel helped to negotiate a deal between the member of staff and the photographer, part of which involved an undertaking on behalf of the University to remind staff of their copyright obligations.

Also note that the Copyright Act allows the University to reproduce and communicate (i.e. make available online) copyright material for educational purposes under certain conditions and restrictions without having to seek the copyright owner's permission. These provisions are outlined in Part VA and Part VB of the Act (also called statutory licences). The University pays an annual fee for the right to reproduce and communicate material under the licences.

For more information about copyright, please visit our copyright website or contact Copyright Officer Raj Saxena for advice.