FAQs and Guides

Introduction to Copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright is an automatic IP right that relates to the expression of an idea (not the idea itself) as soon as that idea is 'fixed' (written, drawn, recorded or stored on your computer).

You do not need to formally apply or pay for copyright protection.

Copyright can be sold, licensed or assigned to someone else.

Copyright is an area of IP law that is becoming increasingly important, particularly with the creation and dissemination of a wide range of works now done by electronic means.

The digital revolution is impacting not just on software copyright and music but in areas as diverse as book publishing, computer software, satellite broadcasting and databases.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects sound recordings, films, broadcasts and original artistic, musical, dramatic and literary works. This includes books, websites, computer programs, videos, databases, maps, photographs, sculptures, maps and logos.

How long does copyright last for?

For literary, musical, artistic and dramatic work copyright lasts for the creator's lifetime plus 70 years after their death. This applies also to software and can even apply to some functional (but still 'artistic') articles.

Where films are concerned copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the last of the directors, score composer and screenplay authors.

The layout of published editions (such as newspapers, magazines and books) is protected by publisher's right, which lasts for 25 years from the date of creation.

Use of the © symbol

The © symbol can be used after your name and the date to show who created a piece of work and when.

Proof of creation

A dated copy of your work can be deposited with a bank or solicitor, or posted 'special delivery' to yourself (and left unopened) in order to provide evidence of when it was created. Should someone copy your work without permission this dated copy of your work could be important in proving that you created your work first.

Moral rights

This occurs when a third party copies a substantial part of your work without your permission, although there are complex legal provisions where the copy is a three-dimensional article as opposed to, for example, a two-dimensional copy of a drawing.

There are also various other acts, besides copying, that can amount to infringement where a third party does them without the consent of the copyright owner.

Infringement

This occurs when a third party copies a substantial part of your work without your permission, although there are complex legal provisions where the copy is a three-dimensional article as opposed to, for example, a two-dimensional copy of a drawing.

There are also various other acts, besides copying, that can amount to infringement where a third party does them without the consent of the copyright owner.

New exceptions in 2014

A number of new exceptions were introduced into UK law in 2014, so that certain activities which would have previously infringed copyright may no longer do so. In particular:

  • Individuals are now allowed to make copies of media they have bought, such as e-books and CDs, for their personal use.
  • Generally, the law now makes it easier for schools and universities to use copyright materials for educational and teaching purposes.
  • Copyright works can now be more easily quoted from, provided the quotation is fair and sufficient acknowledgement is given.
  • Copyright material may now be used for the purpose of parody, caricature or pastiche, as long as the use is fair and proportionate.

Royalties and blanket licenses

Some copyright owners always license their works, whereby royalties are paid to the copyright owner in exchange for using their material in your business. Blanket licenses give permission to use the rights of a particular group or type of creations, and are typically purchased from an organisation which represents groups of copyright owners.

Global copyright protection

Consistent with this rise in importance is a growing level of harmonisation at the EU level. Historically copyright has been the least harmonised of IP rights, mainly because different countries had different views of what should be protected and how. This partial harmonisation raises a large number of complex legal issues, on which specialist advice is vital.

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