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Research Guides

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


The following records deal with copyright legislation and other matters. It is not a comprehensive list.

Bill files, 1901–
Canberra (Sydney)

Files in this series contain manuscript drafts, proof and final copies (with manuscript amendments) of Bills from their first and subsequent readings, and correspondence directing the preparation of legislation. In some cases, a copy of the resulting Act is enclosed. Copies of the principal copyright legislation from 1905 to 1935 are held in the collection.

Series: A2863
Quantity: 331 metres (118 metres)
Recorded by: 1901–70 Attorney-General's Department (CA 5); 1970– Office of Parliamentary Counsel (CA 2965)
Copyright Act, 1905–06

This item contains documentation on the creation of the Commonwealth Copyright Act 1905. It contains several copies of drafts of the Bill and the Act (some with annotations and amendments), and some handwritten correspondence.

A2863, 1905/25
Copyright Act, 1912–82

This item deals with the drafting of the Copyright Act 1912. It contains handwritten and typed correspondence; copies of the minutes of the Law of Copyright Committee of the British Parliament (1909); annotated and amended copies of the 1905 copyright Bill and the Act itself; various pieces of copyright legislation enacted in the colonies of Victoria and South Australia; copies of the 1912 Copyright Bill and the subsequent Act, and associated memoranda and minutes; a report from the House of Commons on copyright (1899); correspondence on the Berlin Convention (1908); and opinions from the Attorney-General's Department.

A2863, 1912/20
General correspondence of the governor-general (excluding war files), 1912–27
Series: A11804
Quantity: 29 metres
Recorded by: Governor-General's Office (CA 1)
Copyright legislation, 1911–12

This file contains correspondence from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom to the British Ambassador to the United States of America about the Imperial Copyright Act 1911. The file also contains copies of this Act and other pieces of international law. It is worth noting that the 1911 Act was the first legislation that specified mechanical instrument records and rolls and cinematograph films.

A11804, 1912/35 part 1
Correspondence files, 1914–93

This series contains material dating back to 1914. It is the main correspondence series for the Department of External Affairs and later agencies with the same functions. A1838 is a massive series, covering many topics. It is arranged by subject, with records on copyright issues generally located under the 'Consular/protocol' division.

Series: A1838
Quantity: 3487 metres
Recorded by: 1948–70 Department of External Affairs [II] (CA 18); 1970–87 Department of Foreign Affairs (CA 1382); 1987–89 Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (CA 5987)
Copyright Patents – International Conference on Copyrights Bureau for Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, 1948–55

This file contains a statement on the significance of changes to United States copyright law by George D Cary, issued by the (US) State Department on 15 March 1954. The file also contains copies of letters to the United Kingdom Foreign Office (some dealing with the retrospective accession of Israel to copyright protection under the 1928 convention); two copies of a report by the New Zealand Minister of Justice to the NZ Parliament; the revised text of the Copyright Convention; lengthy detailed letters from Dignam, of the Australian High Commission in Dublin, to the then Minister for State for External Affairs (Evatt), reporting on the conference and the Australian delegation's role in it; a copy of general report (in French) and a copy of the Berne Convention (in French and English); and a complete report by Dignam of the convention.

A1838, 1471/13 part 4
Correspondence files, 1929–
Canberra (Sydney)

This series is the main correspondence series of the Attorney-General's Department. It deals with a wide range of issues, including censorship, customs and various law enforcement activities.

Series: A432
Quantity: 2042 metres (353 metres)
Recorded by: c1929– Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Miscellaneous documents relating to copyright law review committee, 1928–62

This file contains a copy of a summary of submissions on copyright law under the UK Copyright Act 1956; a short typed list of articles relating to copyright law; a pro forma for agreements between Allen and Unwin and another party for licensing the use of music and some correspondence about it; a discussion paper from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (sometime in the 1950s) that includes a detailed discussion of copyright issues; lists of choral works controlled by the Performing Rights Society Ltd, with the ratings for fees per length of performance; and comparisons between the Rome and Brussels conventions and related legal correspondence.

It also contains a circular about Crown copyright from the London Gazette of 2 May 1958; a copy of an article by a Queen's Counsel on the new Copyright Act, published in The Listener on 14 February 1957; and several copies of the broadcasting agreement between the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) and the Australian Broadcasting Commission (now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the ABC).

Among the more unusual items in this file are the completed copies of several music licences granted in 1959 to various venues such as the 'Rainbow Room' in Bendigo, Victoria for music on a jukebox and the Moulin Rouge Cabaret in Elwood, Victoria (for all musical performances for the year).

A432, 1962/2008 part 2
Copyright of National Songs (1) Advance Australia Fair, and (2) Australia Land of Ours, 1935–44

This small file contains correspondence relating to requests for copies of these two national songs and about possible infringements of the copyright on them.

One request in this item is from the Assistant Australian Trade Commissioner in Canada (R R Ellen), who was eager to obtain copies of either of these songs because inquiries for something …

'… considered most closely to conform to an Australian national anthem comparable to O! Canada so far as Canada is concerned …'

… were increasing with the arrival of Royal Australian Air Force trainees. The response from the Registrar of Copyrights provided details about the copyright holders – names, addresses and registration dates and numbers.

The file also contains a Hansard report from 30 April 1942 in which a member of the House of Representatives expresses concern that APRA was collecting royalties for broadcasting Advance Australia Fair. The Prime Minister, Mr Curtin, responded that the claim for copyright had been reviewed and reported on by a parliamentary committee but that the report had not been presented to the Parliament, which was occupied with the war.

However, a memo dated 29 November 1942 indicates that Hon. Arthur Calwell (then Minister for Information) had arranged that Advance Australia Fair and, in some cases, the British and American national anthems would be played in picture theatres.

A432, 1942/414
Attorney-General – Special correspondence files, 1952

This series contains 'special' files on a variety of subjects, eg legal matters, commissions of inquiry, conventions, conferences and statutes.

Series: A467
Quantity: 32 metres
Recorded by: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
International Copyright Conference, Brussels (1936) and the International Conference on Authors' rights, Brussels (1939), 1936–40

This file contains handwritten draft notes and typed copies of the Acting Attorney-General's opinion. It also contains extracts from cablegrams, letters and minute papers regarding the postponement of one of the conferences, and matters to be considered at the International Conference on Authors' Rights, held in Brussels in 1939.

A467, SF 2/14
International Copyright Conference, Brussels (1936) – correspondence with the ABC, 1935

This item contains correspondence between the ABC, the British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) and the Australian Government about the International Copyright Conference in Brussels. The gist of the correspondence is that the ABC had insufficient notice of the conference to prepare a representation for the government and would instead request the BBC to look after its interests.

A467, SF 2/15


Chapter 5
Searching Further Afield in the Archives