Wed 1st Mar 2017

Copyright and frequently asked questions

If you have created original computer software, literary, musical or artistic works, copyright gives you automatic protection, allowing you to control how your work is exploited.

Copyright is an automatic right which provides protection for works of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic nature, once the work has been fixed (i.e. recorded in some manner, and not simply an abstract idea). Copyright protection can be used to prevent third parties from using, copying, renting or licensing your work without your permission, and allows you to take legal action against any such activity. In the UK, copyright is an automatically subsisting right, and therefore registration is not necessary.


What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, and not the idea itself. For example, the raw idea of a story would not qualify for copyright, but a book with the story written in it would.


Whilst literary work is a common example of what can be copyright protected it’s worth bearing in mind that films, music recordings, sculptures and generally other works which display an author’s own intellectual creation may be eligible for copyright protection.


How long does copyright protection last for?

It depends on the nature of the work. In the EEA, literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, including photographs, are protected for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. For cinematographic works the 70 years is calculated from the last of the deaths of the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue and music composer. Sound, film and broadcast recordings, and other related rights are protected for 50 years. These terms vary for authors and works from countries outside of the European Economic Area (EEA).


Who owns the copyright?

Most often, the author of the work. However, works made in employment or under contract may belong to the employer or another party. We recommend that you contact one of our attorneys to discuss this aspect in more detail if you require advice with regards to ownership.


Can I use the © symbol on my work even if I have not registered my work?

Yes. Often the symbol is used followed by the date of creation and name of the author of the work. Whilst use of the symbol will not provide any additional protection to your work, it may have the effect of deterring a third party from copying your work, whether accidentally or on purpose.


If copyright protection automatically subsists, do I need to do anything?

No, but you may wish to unambiguously prove your work existed at a particular date. In the unfortunate event of a legal dispute, proof of the date at which your work was first fixed may be useful.


In some countries you can register your work with a government authority. For example, in the US works can be registered with the US copyright office, and this does give some benefits to the owner/author of the work.


In the UK you cannot register your work with the UK Intellectual Property Office. It is therefore generally advisable to date and retain all preparatory work such as drafts, plans and sketches. As an alternative to registering, you may opt to send yourself a copy of your work via recorded delivery. The envelope is date stamped and signed, and should be left unopened as a way to show that the work existed at a particular time.


We have extensive experience in advising on copyright and securing international protection. (In some countries it's necessary to register copyright, whereas in others copyright is automatic.)


How can we help?

We have extensive experience in advising on copyright and securing international protection. (In some countries it's necessary to register copyright, whereas in others copyright is automatic.)


Recent experience includes:

  • advised a sole trader on copyright aspects of a video production.


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