How to Get Copyright Protection and Copyright Enforcement

There is no official registration system for copyright in the UK and most other parts of the world. There are no forms to fill in and no fees to pay to get copyright protection.

If you have created a work that qualifies for copyright protection, you will have copyright protection once you meet the criteria for protection (see What is protected by copyright). You do not, however, have to fill out any forms or pay any money to receive protection. In fact, it is a requirement of various international conventions on copyright that copyright should be automatic.

To help protect your copyright work, it is advisable to mark it with the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year in which the work was created. Although this is not essential in the UK, it will let others know when the term of protection started and it should then be possible to calculate whether it has ended or not. It will also indicate who the owner was at that time in case it is then necessary to approach them should you need to ask permission to use the work.

Additionally, a creator could send himself or herself a copy by special delivery post (which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope), leaving the envelope unopened on its return (ensuring you also know what is inside each envelope in case you do this more than once). Alternatively you could lodge your work with a bank or solicitor. It is important to note, that this does not prove that a work is original or created by you. But it may be useful to be able to show the court that the work was in your possession at a particular date.

There are a number of companies that offer unofficial copyright registers. You should think very carefully whether this is a useful service for you before choosing this route. Some of the things to think about are:

  1. How much does it cost and is it a one-off or regular payment?

  2. Are you paying just for a registration, or does the cost cover more than this, for example help with a legal action should your copyright be infringed?

  3. Is the registration likely to be better than the evidence you can create for yourself by sending a copy of the work to yourself by Special Delivery post and not opening the envelope upon its return?

  4. Are you still likely to have a problem proving that you had the copyright material at a certain time which is all that registration can help to prove?

Neither registration nor sending a copy of the work to yourself shows that you were the author of the work. Keeping copies of all your drafts and any other material that shows your connection with the particular copyright material as you develop it could, however, be useful evidence if you ever have to prove that you are the author.

Copyright Enforcement

Copyright is infringed if the whole or substantial part of a work is used in a manner restricted by copyright. Only the owner of the copyright or exclusive licensee may bring an action for civil copyright infringement. The enforcement of criminal infringement is usually dealt with by public authorities. One of the many organisations representing copyright owners (see Copyright Contacts) may also be able to give the author advice, or, if they are a member, sometimes act on your behalf.

If you do go to court, the courts can:

  1. Stop that person making further infringing use of the material by granting an injunction
  2. Award the copyright owner damages
  3. Make the infringing party give up related goods to the copyright owner, for instance copies made

This business advice article is subject to Crown Copyright © 2012

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