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For students

How much can I copy from a book without infringing copyright?

Students are entitled to deal with copyright materials in certain ways if it’s a 'fair dealing for the purpose of research or study'.

Fair dealing is not defined by the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), and the courts take a number of factors into account in determining whether a certain act of copying is a fair dealing. This includes:

  • the purpose and character of the copying;
  • the possibility of obtaining the book within a reasonable time at an ordinary commercial price; and
  • the amount and substantiality of the part copied.

Despite the above, the Act prescribes the following amounts as ‘reasonable portions’ that, if copied, constitute a 'fair dealing'.

Work or adaptation

A literary, dramatic or musical work (except a computer program), or an adaptation of such a work, that is contained in a published edition of at least 10 pages.

Amount that is a reasonable portion

  • 10% of the number of pages in the edition; or
  • if the work is divided into chapters - a single chapter.

Therefore, copying 10%  or one chapter of a book (whichever is the greater) constitutes a fair dealing and is permitted under the Copyright Act.

Music copyright

Copyright in music is complex. The rights include the composition (writing the music down on paper) performance and recording the musical work. The CD, audio tape etc, is also protected as a sound recording.

Apart from the use of music permitted under fair dealing, permission from the copyright owner is required to reproduce (photocopy, record or download etc.), communicate to the public (make available on the Internet, broadcast etc), or perform music.

Who owns the copyright in my coursework, including my thesis?

As an ECU student, you own the copyright in all your original coursework – this includes assignments, essays, projects, exam answers, theses, original productions, etc. unless you have agreed to an alternative arrangement.

Where a group project is produced, the copyright ownership will usually be jointly shared by the group.

If you're concerned about protection of your copyright, retain drafts of the work and/or show the work to a reliable witness and ask them to sign and date the work.

Your permission is required if ECU staff wish to copy or communicate your work in some way. You should download the Authorisation for Copying Student Work form if this applies to you.

Note: If you’re required to submit multiple copies of a thesis containing material copied under the fair dealing provisions, the additional copies will be covered under ECU's educational copying licence.

For more information, please download the ECU Intellectual Property policy.

Publishing your work

You should place the copyright notice on all work you create, whether or not it’s published.

This is especially important if it's published on the Internet. An essay written for an assignment is unpublished, but work you put on the web is published and therefore available to the public.

Your copyright notice acts as a warning that the work is protected. It also identifies the copyright owner (you) and details where a potential user can seek permission for use. It's useful to include a statement setting out the conditions under which the work may be used. For example:

© Copyright, Name of copyright owner, Date first published,

[E-mail or other address].

All rights reserved. No reproduction without permission.

Quotes and extracts

Copyright in a work may be infringed by quoting directly from it or by paraphrasing it if a 'substantial' part of the work is used.

A 'substantial' part relates more to whether it’s an important, essential or distinct part of the work. The quantity or proportion used is less important.

Paraphrasing is where an author writes something new, based on the ideas or information learned from the work of others. The structure, order and way in which the ideas or information are expressed by the other authors are protected by copyright.

Good academic practice requires that other people's research and ideas are acknowledged.

Do I need ECU’s permission if somebody offers to publish my thesis?

Postgraduate students are occasionally approached by publishing houses offering to publish their thesis for a fee.

Generally, you don’t need to obtain ECU’s permission to publish your thesis, as you own the copyright.  However, if you’ve entered into an agreement with ECU whereby the right to publish a thesis is subject to the University’s discretion, permission will need to be obtained.

Third party materials

If your thesis contains third-party copyright materials, such as photographs, tables, diagrams or illustrations, it is recommended that you seek the permission of those third parties before proceeding to publish your thesis.

Although the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) allow you to deal with these materials for the purpose of research or study, they don’t extend to you publishing the materials as part of your thesis.

The difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism

Copyright is the legal right to deal with certain works and other subject matter in a particular way. It’s protected by Commonwealth legislation, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), which sets out various legal rights, obligations and remedies. Copyright infringement is the act of dealing with works and other subject matter contrary to that legal framework.

Plagiarism means to knowingly or unknowingly present as one’s own work the ideas or writings of another without appropriate acknowledgment or referencing. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • paraphrasing or copying text without acknowledgment of the source;
  • copying, whether identically or in essence, the text of another student’s assignment; or
  • copying, whether identically or in essence, of visual representations, for example, cartoons, line drawings, photos, paintings and computer programs.

How we treat plagiarism

ECU treats plagiarism as academic dishonesty. A student who commits an act of plagiarism may be found guilty of academic misconduct and sanctioned under the University Academic Misconduct Rules.

Including someone else’s work in your university assessments might amount to plagiarism (academic misconduct) or a breach of copyright (a legal infringement), or both. ECU requires students to cite all sources using an accepted style and to ensure that use of others’ work in your assessment is fair and reasonable.

If in doubt, speak to your lecturer or supervisor.

Using material from the web

Material published on the Internet is normally automatically protected by copyright.

The exclusive rights of copyright owners include the right of publication (making available to the public) and of communication to the public (which includes making available on a website).

Viewing material published on the Internet is free, but downloading it for storage or printing is a 'reproduction' under Australian copyright law. This generally requires the permission of the copyright owner.

If in doubt, speak to your lecturer or supervisor.

Software copyright

Computer programs are protected by the Copyright Act as 'literary works'.

The use of ECU equipment to copy computer programs protected by copyright is prohibited.

Software used within ECU is subject to licence agreements relating to use. No unauthorised software is to be installed on ECU computing equipment.

Who can I speak to about copyright?

The Office of Legal Services is unable to provide specific legal advice to students. Our role is to provide legal advice to the University itself.

If you have a question about copyright, we recommend that you first speak to your lecturer or supervisor. They can provide general, non-legal guidance about your rights and obligations under copyright.

If the question cannot be resolved by your School or Faculty, you should contact the Library Services Centre.

External resources

Some external resources also provide general information about education-related copyright:

  • Copyright Agency Limited
  • Australian Copyright Council
  • ComLaw
  • Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department
  • Screenrights
  • Music Licences

If you have a specific legal enquiry, ECU encourages you to seek independent legal advice.


Manager, Library Collections and Access
Constance Wiebrands
ECU Library, Joondalup Campus
Telephone: (61 8) 6304 3723

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