Negotiating a changing landscape: Authors, copyright and the digital evolution

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis is situated at the intersection of copyright legislation and literary critical theory on the issue of authorship of written work. Partly as a result of the solitary nature of the writing profession, there exists limited information on the relationship between Australian authors, publishers and copyright issues. Whilst there are numerous texts dealing with the history, justification and application of copyright law, there has been very little research on how authors view this legislation and how they are impacted by copyright issues. Australian copyright research has generally been limited to specific legal issues and Government commissioned reports in relation to economic issues.

In this thesis, data has been drawn together from a range of primary sources, namely authors from each Australian State and Territory, small and large publishers and specialist academics, as well as secondary data analysis of legislation, case law, author contracts and the vast body of literature in this field. The findings are primarily based on responses obtained from 156 published Australian authors in a national online survey and 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews with authors and publishers, which provide a ‘grass roots’ based insight into the research topics. In gathering and interpreting the views, opinions and impressions of those most affected by copyright, copyright structures and the changing publishing industry and considering these against a backdrop of existing legislation, policy and theory, this research has ventured into new ground in Australian copyright research.

Significantly, the research aims to provide a snapshot of this purposive sample of Australian authors’ perspectives on copyright issues at a pivotal point in history when authors find themselves between the old and the new, grappling with the realities of traditional expectations and digital advances in publishing. Furthermore, it sets out to position the Australian author in the changing and expanding literary public sphere within which they find themselves.

Admittedly, copyright law has been constantly evolving in response to economic demands, in an attempt to balance utilitarian principles with the changing times and technological advances. However, unprecedented advances in technology have challenged legislature globally and are having a disruptive effect on traditional publishing models and the copyright provisions that underpin them. It is in this unchartered terrain that both authors and publishers find themselves, with the legislature adopting a reactive position, trying to deal with copyright infringement problems as they present themselves on the one hand, and accommodating public demand for access to creative works on the other. This research focuses on the challenges presented by such a transitional environment from Australian authors’ perspective and considers how the development of a digital publishing arena has impacted on authors’ copyright expectations.
Date of Award6 Oct 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJane Johnston (Supervisor) & William Van Caenegem (Supervisor)

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