Copyright and Intellectual Property

Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, published editions of works, sound recordings, films (including video grams) and broadcasts. It gives the creators of certain kinds of material rights to control the 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;
  • 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.

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.

Some Questions and answers on copyright

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.

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.

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.

Do I need to register copyright?

No. Copyright protection in the UK is automatic and there is no official registration system – so there are no forms to fill in and no fees to pay. It is essentially a private right so decisions about use of a copyright work and how to enforce copyright are generally for a copyright owner to take for him or herself.

Do I have to mark my work to claim copyright?

Although a few countries require that a work be marked with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication, this is not essential in most countries, including the UK. However, marking in this way may assist in copyright infringement proceedings.

How can I prove originality in my work?

Ultimately this is a matter for the courts to decide. However, it may help copyright owners to deposit a copy of their work with a bank or solicitor or send a copy of their work to themselves by special delivery (which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope), leaving the envelope unopened on its return.

What can I do if my work is used without my permission?

Although you are not obliged to do so it will usually be sensible, and save time and money, to try to resolve the matter with the party you think has infringed your copyright. If you cannot do this, then you may need to go to court. Courts may grant a range of remedies, such as injunctions (to stop the other person making use of the material), damages for infringement, or orders to deliver up infringing goods. If infringing copies are being imported from outside the European Economic Area, you may ask HM Customs and Excise to stop them.

Isn’t copyright infringement a criminal offence?

Deliberate copyright infringement may be a criminal offence. If the copyright infringement is on a large scale (e.g. pirate or counterfeit copies of CDs are circulating) then it is worth informing the police or your local trading standards department. They can decide whether action by them, including possible prosecution, is justified.

What about marking my work and enforcing copyright when I put it on a web site?

Generally, when you put your work on a web site, it is probably a good idea to mark each page of the web site with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. In addition, you could include information on your web site about the extent to which you are content for others to use your copyright material without permission. Although material on a web site is protected by copyright in the same way as material in other media, you should bear in mind that web sites are accessible from all over the world and, if material on your web site is used without your permission, you would generally need to take action for copyright infringement where this use occurs.


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