Copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the underlying idea itself.  It arises automatically when a work that qualifies for protection is created, for example by committing an idea to paper in the form of a book or painting,  or in another fixed form, such as data carrier disc or other recording medium.  There is no requirement to register copyright in the UK but the author should retain evidence of its creation and the date of creation.   Copyright only protects against copying of the work; if an underlying idea can be taken and expressed differently without copying, no infringement of copyright will occur.

Copyright will subsist in a piece of work if it is original in the sense that the creator had to use some judgment or skill to create the work but the threshold is low.

The main categories of work protected by copyright in the UK include:

  • literary works (novels, poems, song lyrics, presentations, work manuals, computer programs).
  • dramatic works (plays, dance, mime).
  • musical works (song compositions and compilations).
  • artistic works (paintings, photographs, sculptures, engravings).
  • Films, broadcasts and sound recordings.
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions (i.e. the layout of a particular publication)

Generally, the person creating the original work is the owner of the copyright but exceptions do exist, such as for commissioned works and those created in the course of employment.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to copy the work, distribute copies of the work, rent or lend the work, perform or show the work, communicate it to the public or adapt the work.  The author or creator of the work also has the right to be identified as such in relation to the work unless such right is waived.  Infringement requires a substantial part of a work protected by copyright to be taken but this is subjective, depending upon not just the amount taken but its significance or importance within the work.

The length of time that copyright subsists in a work is dictated by the type of work, with literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works lasting 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author (or last remaining author if multiple authors) dies.  However, a reduced term can apply where works have been mass produced.  Typographical arrangements have a shorter duration, being 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published with that particular layout/appearance.  Other rights may also subsist in a work, such as a database right or unregistered design right.

If you have any questions with regard to the existence or potential infringement of copyright, please do get in touch.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

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