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What is copyright?

The UK Intellectual Property Office's publication 'Copyright essential reading' defines copyright as follows:

"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 United Kingdom, the main legislation is the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. This has been amended by subsequent Acts and Statutory Instruments. Updated versions are available in LexisLibrary or Westlaw databases via the library portal.

Further information is available from the government website or the copyright hub.

Who owns copyright?

Generally the author is the first owner of copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work (including photographs), software and databases.

For films, the principal director and the film producer are joint authors and the first owners of the copyright.

The copyright in sound recordings, broadcasts and published editions generally belong to the producer, broadcasting organisation or the publisher as well as the author, composer or lyricist.

Authors of articles in academic journals are often obliged to assign copyright and then have no further rights to make copies.

There is no need to register copyright or even use the copyright symbol: © You own the copyright as soon as you create something.

How long does it last?

The term of copyright varies according to the material but generally it is:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work - author’s lifetime PLUS 70 years.
  • Film - last survivor (of principal director, author of screenplay and dialogue or the composer) PLUS 70 years.
  • Sound - word and music - life of composer or lyricist PLUS 70 years
  • Sound recording - 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made/released.
  • Broadcast - 50 years from the end of the year of making of the broadcast.
  • Typography of a printed page – 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published.
  • Database right - 15 years from end of year of completion or publication.

Grant of permission

You may copy materials if you have received the permission of the copyright owner (remember that this may not always be the author of the work), and paid any required fees. 

Otherwise you need to rely on the fair dealing provisions – see printed materials.

Page last updated on Wednesday 9 March 2016 at 11.17am.

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