Copyright General

Copyright is governed in the United Kingdom by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copyright is defined as a property right which subsists in accordance with the legislation in the relevant types of work (see above). Copyright arises when the work becomes recorded in writing or otherwise.

Copyright is a series of exclusive rights which vest in a person generally the author in respect of original literary dramatic musical and artistic works. Copyright has been extended by statute to include broadcast, satellite sound recordings and typographical arrangements in recent decades; so, called entrepreneurial rights.

Copyright is a proprietary right and is assignable. The holder of copyright may licence a person to do that which is otherwise a breach of the copyright holders rights as such. The licence can be on such terms as are desired.

Copyright vests automatically and does not require registration. It has a limited duration generally the lifetime of the author +70 years after his death.

Copyright gives the holder the right to prevent others using or exploiting the work the subject of the copyright in various ways. In broad terms, the rights granted are to prevent

  • reproduction of the work,
  • issue of the work to the public
  • renting or lending the work
  • public performance of the work
  • communication of the work
  • adaptation of the work.

UK copyright law protects works with certain connections with United Kingdom. There are international conventions which seek to harmonise copyright law internationally. European Union has provided certain minimum requirements for copyright protection

Rights of Owner

Copyright is presumed to vest in the author. In broad terms, the author is the person who creates the work.

The owner of the copyright in a work has the exclusive right to do the acts set out the legislation which are restricted in respect of copyright of that particular type. The types of use and acts that are restricted are broadly those set out above, but they vary in accordance with the type of work concerned (literary artistic broadcast et cetera).

Copyright is infringed by a person who without the consent (licence) of the copyright owner does or authorises another to do one of the acts which are restricted by copyright. Secondary infringement occurs in respect of less direct infringement such as dealing in pirated copies of works made by another.

Certain acts are permitted by the legislation including in particular

  • making of certain temporary copies in IT processing
  • fair dealing for purposes of private study, research or criticism
  • review and reporting
  • incidental inclusion in an artistic work, sound recording or film broadcast
  • copies for educational purposes
  • certain copying by libraries
  • certain copies for personal use by disabled persons
  • use in parliamentary or judicial proceedings
  • certain other governmental activities

Material produced by persons acting on behalf of the Crown, generally vest in the Crown, by Parliament vests in Parliament as such. Generally, Crown copyright in parliamentary copyright may be reproduced in accordance with the general open licence.


An assignment or exclusive licence may be granted which grants the licensee most of the same rights as the copyright holder.

There are a number of statutory licensing schemes in respect of copyright. They allow for collective licensing in industries such for example in relation to playing music in public and on various media such as radio stations.

Collecting societies exist to  issue licences and facilitate collection of licensing fees on behalf of copyright owners.  The Performing Rights Society and the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society act for writers of music and lyrics and their publishers. They incorporate under the name The Music Alliance. Photographic Performance Limited (PPL) acts for over 3,000 record companies.  VPL is responsible for music video.

The Copyright Tribunal deals with licensing issues. An organisation claiming to be representative of persons may propose a copyright scheme to the Tribunal in respect of licences of a description to which the scheme would apply generally or in certain types of cases. The Tribunal may approve and give effect to the scheme. Disputes about schemes in force may be determined by the Tribunal

The Copyright Tribunal has power to hear disputes

  • about royalties and remuneration in various contexts such as in particular in licensing schemes
  • entitlement to licensing under the scheme
  • retransmission of broadcast
  • equitable remuneration in certain circumstances
  • use of sound recordings and broadcasts
  • what is payable for lending
  • certain copyright licences which are available as of right.

The infringement of copyright is actionable by the copyright owner. In an action for infringement of copyright all such relief by way of damages, injunctions, accounts as are otherwise available to a claimant in property-based claim, are available in respect of the infringement. There are also specific types of statutory remedy.

Licensees have similar enforcement rights to owners. Certain infringement of copyright may be a criminal offence.

Moral Rights

Moral rights are separate to classic copyright. They continue to subsist notwithstanding that the creator of a work never held or has parted with the copyright in it.

By reason of so-called moral rights, the author of a copyright literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work and a director of copyright film has the right to be identified as the author or director of the work in the circumstances mentioned. He must first assert the right in accordance with the legislation. The right does not generally apply to computer programs and computer-generated works.

The author of a copyright literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work and the director of a copyright film has the right in the circumstances defined not to have his work subject to derogatory treatment. Moral rights are not assignable. They may pass on death, subject to conditions. There is an action for infringement by way of breach of statutory duty owed to the rights holder

A person has the right in the defined circumstances not to have a literary, dramatic musical or artistic work falsely attributed to him as author. There is an equivalent like not to have a film falsely attributed to a director.

A person who for private and domestic purposes commissions the taking of a photograph or the making of a film has where there is copyright in such work. has the right not to have copies of the work issued to the public exhibited are shown in public or communicated to the public.

Duration of Rights

The copyright duration depends on the type of copyright concerned. Artistic dramatic and literary works enjoy copyright for the author’s life and 70 years afterwards. It runs from   the end of the calendar year following the author’s death. If there are joint authors, it runs from the date of death of the last surviving joint author.

Where a work is generated by computer, copyright lasts 50 years from the end of the relevant calendar year.

Where works are published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the term runs from 70 years after the work is lawfully made available to the public.

The may be separate periods of copyright in respect of works with elements of copyright owned by various persons.

Motion pictures may be protected as literary or artistic works in accordance with the above criteria (70 years plus lifetime of the author). The period is 70 years of the date of death of the last designated persons

  • author of screenplay
  • principal director
  • dialogue author
  • composer of music specially composed

If there are no such persons, then copyright is 50 years from creation. The maximum protection is 101 years.

Similarly, sound recordings copyright runs for 50 years from the year of first fixation subject to a maximum period of 101 years.

Typo graphical arrangements are protected for 25 years from the publication of the first edition

Where the work originates from a third country as defined in the Berne Convention and the author is not an EU national, the term is to be no longer than that in the country of origin. This refers the country of first publication. If it was published in more than one country at the same time and if one is an EEA state, that EEA state is the country of origin. In other cases, it is the shorter of the period of protection afforded by the country of origin.

Database Right

Databases enjoy a copyright like right under modern amendments to the legislation, that have been implemented pursuant to EU law. It extends rights to a database which by virtue of the selection or arrangement of the contents, constitutes the author’s own intellectual creation.

Where the creator of the database who has made substantial investment in obtaining, verifying and presenting its contents, the database right may be used to prevent extraction and reuse of the whole or a substantial part of the contents of the database. This right applies regardless of whether the database content itself might or might not qualify for copyright protection.


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