What most people don’t realise is that copyright is an unregistered right that comes into being upon the creation of an original work. There is no registration procedure or formal body that registers copyright and so copyright is often described as automatic.

Copyright can exist in a range of different types of original works including:

  • artistic works such as paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs,
  • designs such as logos, webpage styles or layouts,
  • written works such as musical arrangements, novels, lyrics, poems, marketing literature, website and literature text,
  • dramatic works including films and theatre plays,
  • other original works such as computer program code or a database.

The purpose of copyright is to guard against the direct copying of an original work and so, it exists to prevent, for example, unauthorised reproduction of an artistic print or sculpture, photocopying or replication of large parts of a written work or business logo and the making of pirate copies of films.

There are a few misconceptions about the extent of protection that copyright can offer. It is important to note that copyright cannot protect an idea in isolation. Therefore, it cannot protect a mere plot or outline for a novel, or an idea for a new game with rules, although in the latter case there may be other copyright factors to consider. Nor can copyright be used to stop a third party who has come up with an identical or closely similar work with no knowledge of your own work. It cannot be extended to cover computer programs or code that have been independently written in a different coding language.

There are some complications concerning who generates an original work and who actually owns it. Just because you have commissioned a work and paid for it, it does not mean that you will certainly own the copyright in that work and so it is worthwhile seeking advice on how to ensure that you own any copyright.

One of the biggest hurdles with enforcing copyright against a potential copier or infringer is the proof of ownership of the copyright and therefore, it is very important to keep accurately dated records of the creation of the work from its first date of conception onwards. Use of the © symbol alongside the first date of creation should be used on any publications, including electronic publications and websites in order to notify third parties of your rights.

Copyright only applies for a limited period, which can differ depending upon the type of original work in question. However, in most cases in the UK the term of copyright protection is 70 years from the death of the original author of the work (if created after 1996).

Copyright is a form of property and as such can be sold, given away or licensed.

Copyright may be enforceable internationally.

If you have a specific copyright problem or matter, we would be happy to help.