In Australia, copyright doesn’t just apply to works with the © symbol and ‘fair use’ exemptions are far narrower than in the USA, where different laws apply.

The copyright laws for business in Australia apply to images, video and text both in print and online. For example, if you scan a newspaper article and email it to a client or colleague, you are in breach of the Copyright Act. The same goes if you copy someone else’s content on your website or on social media even if you credit the source.

As we all know, these types of breaches occur all the time in the corporate world, from the big end of town right down to local businesses. Why? I’d argue there are three factors in play.

The first is ignorance.

Awareness is low despite a Copyright Agency advertising campaign which outlined the issue and actively encouraged employees to inform on non-compliant workplaces. A common misapprehension is that the worst that could happen is that you could be asked to take the offending material down. In fact, a lawsuit could result from copyright violations. There are also myths like ‘If you change 10 per cent, it’s okay’.

For those who are aware of the issue, many weigh the convenience (right click!) of copying others’ content against the risk of litigation (admittedly not huge for minor transgressions) and deliberately infringe — particularly in settings they perceive as low risk e.g. intranet, group emails etc.

Cost is also a driver.

In the world of search engine optimisation, and customer relations, it’s often said that ‘content is king’. A constant flow of relevant content is vital to scoring, and maintaining, that critical first page position on Google.

However, creating fresh, engaging content — text, images, video — from scratch at a professional standard can be expensive, particularly if you hire professional writers, photographers and graphic designers rather than task the nearest intern. (The short sightedness of putting the reputation of your company in the hands of an intern or junior member of staff is a rant for another day!)

The good news is that communications professionals can work with businesses to harness available royalty-free material — particularly photographs and, to a lesser extent, templates — and structure an integrated social media plan that can be cost-effectively and legally executed in-house.

And, if your business does need to use others’ copyright material, licences can usually be purchased — either directly from the creator, or indirectly via a licence from the Copyright Agency.