Out-Law Guide | 29 Apr 2005 | 1:19 am | 11 min. read
This guide is based on UK law. It was last updated in February 2018.
Copyright gives the author of certain types of material rights to control the use or commercial exploitation of the work that he or she has created. This includes rights to authorise or prohibit the copying, issuing of copies, renting or lending, performing, showing, playing, broadcasting or adaptation of the copyright material.
What is protected by copyright?
The sorts of material (referred to in copyright legislation as 'works') which benefit from copyright protection are set out by statute, and are broken down into the following categories:
Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works will only be original if they are the result of independent creative effort. They will not be original if they have been copied. The key to protection is independent creation. Even if two works are almost identical they will still be original if they have been created by their respective authors independently of each other.
Sound recordings, films and published editions do not have to be original but they will not attract copyright if they have been copied from existing sound recordings, films and published editions.
Broadcasts also do not have to be original, but no copyright will arise if they infringe copyright in another broadcast.
Ideas are not protected by copyright. Copyright will only protect the textual or literary expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves. Names, titles and internet domain names also do not attract copyright. These can however be protected in other ways, for example by a registered trade mark or a common law action to prevent passing-off. Logos may be protected under copyright as artistic works.
Is material on the internet protected by copyright?
Material sent over the internet or stored on web servers is generally protected in the same way as material in other media. It is a fallacy that once material is posted on the internet it somehow enters the public domain. Anyone placing copyright material on the internet, or distributing or downloading material that others have placed on the internet, must therefore ensure that they have the permission of the copyright owner unless the use of the material falls within an exception. A copyright notice on a website will often set out what you can and can't do with the material on that site.
It should be noted that copyright material may have been put on the internet in other countries without infringing copyright there, but could still be illegal to use without permission in the UK, particularly if the website is aimed at users based in the UK.
Do I need to take formal steps to register my copyright?
Not in the UK. Provided that the work in question is one that qualifies for copyright protection, copyright will arise automatically as soon as the work is created without any need for registration.
A copyright owner may mark copyright material when it is published with the international copyright symbol © followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. This is not essential in the UK , but may assist a copyright owner in the event of infringement proceedings. It will also be necessary if a copyright owner wishes to enforce his or her copyright in certain foreign countries.
When is someone infringing my copyright?
Copyright allows the owner, and the owner alone, to copy, issue copies, rent or lend, perform, show, play, communicate or adapt the copyright work.
Copyright is infringed by a third party who performs any of the actions listed above without the permission of the copyright owner, unless the act carried out falls within an exception.
In addition a person may commit a secondary infringement of copyright if, among other things, they import into the UK, possess, sell or distribute an article which they know or have reason to believe is an infringing copy.
The main exceptions are:
If a person is using copyright material it is also generally necessary to include an acknowledgement of the name of the copyright work and its author.
How are computer programs dealt with?
Following the coming into force of the Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations, which implemented the EC Directive on the Protection of Computer Programs, in 1993, computer programs are protected on the same basis as literary works. Therefore provided the program is original its author will have the exclusive right to copy the program, issue copies to the public, demonstrate the program to the public, and adapt or translate the program.
Converting a copyright program into or between computer languages and codes will normally constitute an 'adaptation' of the work. Similarly, storing a copyright work in a computer amounts to 'copying' the work, and running a computer program or displaying work on a VDU will usually involve copying. Any such use will therefore require the consent of the copyright owner unless it falls within an exception.
Certain specific exceptions apply in relation to computer programs, including:
In assessing whether an alleged infringement involves the whole or a substantial part of a computer program, courts will consider the content of, and the elements which make up, the program. The courts have held that substantiality is to be judged by looking at the skill, labour and expertise that went into the specific bits of code which are alleged to have been infringed. It is not a question of whether the system would work without that piece of code, or the amount of use the system makes of the code.
As a result, there can be copyright infringement even if the actual code copied amounts to a very small percentage of the total software code in the program.
How long does copyright protection last?
The duration of copyright protection depends on the nature of the protected work. The position can be summarised as follows:
Note that database rights expire 15 years from the date the database was made or, if published, 15 years from the date of publication, although this time period is revived when "substantial" changes are made to the database.
Can I sell my rights in copyright?
Copyright is a property right which, like rights in physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, either wholly or in part. Copyright may therefore subsequently belong to someone other than the author of the protected work.
Copyright owners may choose to license others to use protected works while retaining ownership themselves. The terms of any such licence should deal with the following issues:
For more information refer to: www.ipo.gov.uk