Five things RTOs should know about copyright

26 June 2019

To deliver high quality vocational training and education, RTOs need to access and use information quickly and efficiently from a variety of sources such as textbooks, websites, newspapers and journals. However, there is often uncertainty around what information an RTO can legally use. Here are five things RTOs need to keep in mind when copying and sharing copyright content for educational purposes.

1. You can’t copy a copyright work without permission or a licence

Most works are covered by copyright. If your staff members copy and share text, tables, graphs or images that were created by others, they will usually need permission from the copyright owner to do so.

Australia’s copyright law does allow the use of up to 10 per cent of a work without permission in special circumstances (e.g. a student can use 10 per cent of a work for research or study). However, educators are generally not allowed this 10 per cent leeway. There are exceptions to this:

  • if you obtain permission from the copyright owner
  • if your organisation is covered by the statutory education copyright licence – this is covered in more detail in point 5.

Using even a very small part of someone else’s work can require permission if that part is important or integral and was the result of skill and time.

2. Internet content is not necessarily free to use

News articles, graphics and images available at the touch of a button, and it is now easier than ever to copy, share, download or email creative content.

These works, even though they are on the internet, are usually copyright-protected. Under Australian law, copyright applies automatically to written and artistic works from the moment they are created or fixed in some way – whether offline or online.

Most websites contain information about terms of use or a copyright notice. These state what you can and can’t do with the content on the site. Even if there are no terms of use, content on the internet is protected by copyright in the same way as any other content.

3. Crediting the content creator when using their work is not always sufficient

Under the ‘moral rights’ provisions in the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth), you must:

  • credit the author of the content you use unless it is reasonable not to (or the author has consented to not being credited)
  • not credit work to a person who was not the creator
  • avoid making changes or additions to works that are unreasonably ‘derogatory’ (prejudicial to the creator).

It is important to note that credit alone is not always sufficient. The economic rights of the copyright owner also need to be addressed. Depending on how you are using the work, the copyright owner might only require a credit, but they might require a payment too.

4. RTOs are responsible for the copyright compliance of their employees

It is your responsibility as the RTO to ensure content used by your staff members and casual educators is licensed whenever relevant. This includes everything from textbooks to digital resources such as online newspapers and blogs.

To avoid copyright breaches, you need to:

  • monitor which materials educators are using across all classrooms on a daily basis
  • find and contact the owner/publisher of a copyright work to seek permission every time you wish to use a portion of their material
  • arrange payment of a licence fee when required.

Alternatively, ‘blanket’ licences have been developed to help educational organisations manage copyright risk and enable faster workflows. A blanket licence covers the whole institution and allows educators immediate use of content from any source. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to provide students with a wide range of content, and supplements course materials you may be developing or purchasing from a third-party supplier. Point 5 provides more detail on blanket licences.

5. Three entities manage the ‘blanket’ copyright licences available to educational organisations

The Australian Government appointed the Copyright Agency to manage the education copying scheme (Statutory Education Licence). The scheme provides a blanket copyright licence allowing educational institutions to copy and share text and images for educational purposes in ways that usually require permission, provided that fair compensation is made to the creators of content.

The Copyright Agency has arrangements with peak bodies for schools and universities, and individual agreements with more than 1,000 other private education providers. This includes private colleges, RTOs, training arms, community colleges and kindergartens. The agency has also developed a cloud-based digital library—called Flex—to help educational institutions manage their copyright compliance when compiling reading materials.

For more information on how the Statutory Education Licence can support your RTO, please contact Liesl Fitzpatrick, Senior Manager, Education Licensing, on 02 9394 7644 or at

The Australian Government has also appointed Screenrights to manage the licence that allows educational institutions to copy and share broadcast content, such as documentaries shown on television.

There are also similar arrangements available with APRA | AMCOS for music licences.

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