Copyright Ownership: What Rights do you Have?

If you have created a copyright work, you have certain exclusive rights over certain uses of that work. Rights granted to authors fall into two categories:

  1. economic rights and
  2. moral rights. Copyright is infringed when any of the economic rights are utilised without permission of the copyright owner, whether directly or indirectly in respect of the whole or a substantial part of a work (see Copyright Enforcement).

Economic Rights

Economic rights give the copyright owner the opportunity to make commercial gain from the exploitation made of their works. It also allows an author to take action to claim compensation for and prevent infringing acts. There are six economic rights. These rights do not apply to all works, and we note some of the major distinctions below. The author of a copyright work has the right to control (by authorising):

  1. The copying of the work in any way (“the reproduction right”). For example, photocopying, reproducing a printed page by handwriting, typing or scanning into a computer, and taping recorded music.

  2. The issuing of copies of the work to the public or the right to put tangible copies into commercial circulation (“the distribution right”). For example, a book being sold to a retailer for sale in a bookshop. This right only applies the first time a work enters into commercial circulation and so would not apply to second hand or charity shops.

  3. The renting or lending copies of the work to the public (“the rental and lending right”). For example, renting from a video store or loaning a CD from a library. However, some lending of copyright works falls within the Public Lending Right Scheme (see Related Rights) and this lending does not infringe copyright. The rental and lending right applies to literary, dramatic, musical works and to certain forms of artistic works; to sound recordings, films and broadcasts.

  4. The performing, showing or playing the work in public (“the performance right”). For example, performing a play in the theatre, playing sound recordings and showing films or videos in public. This right is not applicable to artistic works or typographical arrangements.

  5. The communication of the work to the public by electronic transmission (“the communication to the public right”). This communication can be through broadcasting or through making the work available through electronic transmission so that the public can access the work when and where they want. The best way to differentiate this from the performance right is to understand that the performance does not occur in the same location as the public, for example, the broadcast of a television program or an on demand music program. This right is not applicable to typographical arrangements.

  6. The making of an adaptation of the work (“the adaptation right”). For example, making a comic book out of a novel, transcribing a musical work and converting a computer program into a different computer language or code. This is only applicable to literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.

As well as economic rights, the authors of certain types of works are given moral rights over their works.

Moral Rights

Works often mean more than just the economic value they can generate from their exploitation, they can be very special to the person who creates them as they have invested a lot in the work, emotionally or intellectually. The works express a fundamental aspect of the author. As a result, copyright works need to be protected in ways that are different to traditional forms of property. Moral rights protect those non-economic interests. Moral rights are only available for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film. Some performers are granted moral rights (see Related Rights).

There are three moral rights recognized in the UK and if infringed, an author can claim damages:

  1. The right to be identified as author/director (“the right of paternity or attribution”): The right to be recognised as the author of the work. For example, the name of the author appearing on the front cover of a book. This right needs to be asserted before it applies (e.g. in a contract selling the rights in a novel to a publisher, an author will state)

  2. The right to object to derogatory treatment of a work (“the right of integrity”): This right only applies to particular types of work: original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film. Treatment is defined as addition, deletion, alteration to or adaption of a work (and does not apply to translations of a literary and dramatic work or the arrangement or transcription of a musical work if it is no more than a change of key or register). Treatment is “derogatory” if it amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author or director of the work. The Courts in the UK and elsewhere have interpreted “derogatory” and “treatment”. Derogatory treatment in the UK must be prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author or director to be actionable. Simple changes to the size or colour of the work are unlikely to be sufficient.

  3. The right to object to false attribution: The right not to be named as the author of a work, when the author has not created the work. For example, a well-known author being named as the author of a story they did not write.

There are also exceptions to moral rights.

This business advice article is subject to Crown Copyright © 2012

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