What is Copyright?

Copyright rewards the making of, and investment in, creative works while also recognising the need for use to be made of those works. In the UK, the works covered by copyright are:

  • literary (e.g. song lyrics and computer programs);
  • dramatic (e.g. dance and mime);
  • musical (e.g. music composition);
  • and artistic (e.g. painting and sculpture) works.

Broadcasts, sound recordings (e.g. the recording on the CD or MP3), films and typographical arrangements of published editions (e.g. the layout of a book) are also granted copyright protection.

If certain criteria are met (see What is protected by copyright?), copyright gives the creator (‘the author’) of the work exclusive rights over certain uses of those works. For example, the author of a work has the exclusive right to allow or prevent the copying of their work or the performance of their work in public. These rights are called ‘economic rights’ (see If you have copyright, what rights do you have?). As well as economic rights over their works, authors of literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works (and directors of films) are given moral rights, for example, to be named as the author of the work (see Moral Rights)

Economic rights can be treated like any other piece of property so may be sold or licensed. Moral rights cannot be sold or transferred although they can be waived and are transmitted on the death of the author or director

Copyright applies for a limited time period or term, the length of which varies depending on the type of work (see How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?). In the UK, if certain criteria are met a work is automatically protected by copyright once it is created. The UK does not require a work to be registered or go through any formal process before protection is granted

Copyright is infringed if a person does (or authorises another to do) any of the exclusive acts restricted by the copyright without the permission of the owner (see Copyright Enforcement), in relation to the whole or a substantial part of a copyright work. Importantly, however, there are limited circumstances (copyright exceptions) where a user may use copyright works without infringing (see Exceptions to copyright).

Under the Rome Convention, the rights of the performers, broadcasters and producers of sound recordings are protected as related rights. A performance can take place at a live concert or it can also be recorded and broadcast. Performers are also granted moral rights (see Related Rights). Other rights under copyright include database rights, public lending rights and artist resale rights

In the UK Copyright law is mainly set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (‘CDPA’). The CDPA has been amended substantially to implement European Copyright Directives which have the intention of harmonising some aspects of copyright across Europe.

This business advice article is subject to Crown Copyright © 2012

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