Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

A Nation's Imagination: Australia’s Copyright Records, 1854–1968

3 Commonwealth Copyright

At Federation in 1901, the power to make laws about copyright, patents of inventions and designs and trademarks passed from colonial administration to the new Commonwealth government.

The Commonwealth Copyright Act 1905 came into effect from 1 January 1907, when the records of the five former registrars of copyright were passed to the new Commonwealth jurisdiction, which used the same type of registration system as the former colonial administrations. This same system of registration – requiring the submission of an application and the presentation of the work to be registered – existed with little change until the commencement of the Copyright Act 1968.

The Copyright Act 1912 amended the exhibit requirement to one copy of the literary work and one copy of the artwork, or a representation of it. Although the Act was amended twice (in 1933 and 1935), this section remained the same until the proclamation of the Copyright Act 1968.

The Australian copyright legislation of 1912 was largely derived from the British Copyright Act 1911, which codified the whole law of copyright for the first time. Earlier copyright laws were substantially repealed and copyright in all works, published or unpublished, became dependent on statute. For the first time, 'copyright' was used to describe all rights, including performing rights, conferred by law on the author. The need for legislative reform was brought about by substantial revisions made at the Berne Convention at its Berlin meeting in 1908,54 which led to the repeal of the earlier legislation.

The Copyright Act 1968 differed markedly from the 1912 Act, by providing automatic copyright protection. Under it, copyright subsists where there is a connecting factor to Australian law, for example the author is an Australian citizen or resident, or the work was first published in Australia. Under the 1968 legislation '… there is no provision at all for registration and no system will disclose whether copyright subsists under it'.55 Consequently, the keeping of copyright records ended with the enactment of this legislation.


Chapter notes | All notes

54 Lahore, p. 32.

55 ibid., p. 4.


Chapter 3
Commonwealth Copyright