The main statute governing copyright law is the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

1. What can be protected?

Copyright protects works, not ideas. It is a property right which protects the following works:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works,
  • sound recordings, films and
  • the typographical arrangement of published editions.

Examples include books, music, paintings, sculpture, films, computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps, and technical drawings.

2. Duration of protection

Copyright comes into force automatically and there is no need to apply for protection. It expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the death of the author of the work.

Copyright can be licensed or assigned to other parties. However, moral rights attached to the copyright remain vested in the author and cannot be transferred. These include the right to be identified as the author of the work, the right to object to how the work is presented, e.g if it is derogatory or object to changes made to the work.

3. Infringement

Works which are protected by copyright cannot be used without the author’s permission. Copyright holders can licence the use of their work or assign the copyright to another person.

s.16(1) of the CDPA 1988 list the activities which can only be carried out by the author and which would otherwise amount to an infringement if carried out without the author’s permission:

  • copy the work
  • issue copies of the work to the public
  • rent or lend the work to the public
  • perform, show or play the work in public
  • communicate the work to the public
  • make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation

Examples include: illegal downloading of music, unauthorised use of photos

These are subject to some exceptions, notably for parody, pastiche and caricature found in the Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations which came into force in 2014. 

4. Other information

i. International protection

Copyright is protected internationally through the Berne Convention which sets a minimum level of protection.

ii. Commissioning work from 3rd parties

Copyright automatically resides with the person who created the work. Thus, when commissioning a work, it is important to have a written agreement transferring copyright ownership to the person who commissioned the work.

iii. Employer- employee

The general presumption in the UK that any IP from a work created as part of the normal duties of an employee will belong to the employer. Nevertheless, it is best to specify in employment contracts who will own the IP created.