Copyright – Basic facts about Copyright

A concise guide to copyright so your small business remains within the law and safe

Copyright – Basic facts about Copyright

Copyright gives the creators of certain kinds of material rights to control ways their material can be used. These rights start as soon as the material is recorded in writing or in any other way. There is no official registration system.

The rights cover copying, adapting, distributing, communicating to the public by electronic transmission (including by broadcasting and in an on demand service), renting or lending copies to the public; and performing in public

In many cases, the author will also have the right to be identified on their works and to object if their work is distorted or mutilated.

What is protected by copyright?

Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, published editions of works, sound recordings, films (including videograms) and broadcasts.

Are names protected by copyright?

No. There is no copyright in a name, title, slogan or phrase. But these may be eligible for registration as a trade mark.

Are ideas protected by copyright?

No. Although the work itself may be protected, the idea behind it is not.

What about computer programs and material stored in computers?

Computer programs are protected on the same basis as literary works. Conversion of a program into or between computer languages and codes corresponds to “adapting” a work and storing any work in a computer amounts to “copying” the work. Also, running a computer program or displaying a work on a VDU will usually involve copying and thus require the consent of the copyright owner. The copyright owner will usually need to give permission for ‘adapting’ and ‘copying’ a work, however you may not need permission to make transient or incidental temporary copies

What about databases?

Databases may receive copyright protection for the selection and/or arrangement of the contents. In addition, or instead, database right may exist in a database. This is an automatic right and protects databases against the unauthorised extraction and re-utilisation of the contents of the database. Database right lasts for 15 years from the making but, if published during this time, then the term is 15 years from publication.

Does material have to have novelty or aesthetic value to get copyright protection?

No, it simply has to be the result of independent intellectual effort. Technical descriptions, catalogues and engineering drawings are all examples of material that qualifies for copyright protection, whatever the subject matter.

Can copyright protect industrial articles?

No. Copyright may protect the drawing from which an article is made but copyright cannot be used to prevent the manufacture of articles. For information on protection of industrial articles see Designs.

Is material on the Internet protected by copyright?

Yes. Under UK law (the position in other countries may differ) copyright material sent over the Internet or stored on web servers will generally be protected in the same way as material in other media. So anyone wishing to put copyright material on the Internet, or further distribute or download such material that others have placed on the Internet, should ensure that they have the permission of the owners of rights in the material.

Ownership and duration of copyright

The general rule is that the author is the first owner of copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work. In the case of films, the principal director and the film producer are joint authors and first owners of copyright. The main exception is where a work or film is made in the course of employment, in which case the employer owns the copyright. The copyright in sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions generally belongs to the record producer, broadcaster or publisher.

Do I need to register copyright?

No. Copyright protection in the UK is automatic and there is no registration system – so there are no forms to fill in and no fees to pay.

Can copyright be transferred to someone else?

Yes. Copyright is a form of intellectual property and, like physical property, can be bought and sold, inherited or otherwise transferred. A transfer of ownership may cover all or only some of the rights to which a copyright owner is entitled. First or subsequent copyright owners can choose to license others to use their works whilst retaining ownership themselves.

But if I own something, doesn’t that make me the copyright owner?

No. Copyright exists independently of the medium on which a work is recorded. So if, say, you have bought or inherited a painting, you only own any copyright in it if that also has been transferred to you.

How long does UK copyright last?

Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work (including a photograph) lasts until 70 years after the death of the author. The duration of copyright in a film is 70 years after the death of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film. Sound recordings are generally protected for 50 years from the year of publication. Broadcasts are protected for 50 years and published editions are protected for 25 years.

For copyright works created outside the UK or another country of the European Economic Area, the term of protection may be shorter. There may also be differences for works created before 1 January 1996.

(See also the business advice article How Long Does copyright Protection Last?)

Is there any protection after copyright expires?

If a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work or film for which the copyright has expired has never been made available to the public, it may be protected by publication right. This is granted automatically to the first person to make a relevant work or film available to the public within the European Economic Area, lasts for 25 years from the time of making available, and gives rights broadly similar to those given by copyright.

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