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Under UK copyright law, “copyright” means the “sole right to produce or reproduce the work.” It includes the sole right to do the following, or to authorize others to do the following, with works you hold copyright in:
- copying your work
- distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
- renting or lending copies of your work
- performing, showing or playing your work in public
- making an adaptation of your work
- putting it on the internet
Copyright exists automatically when an original work or other subject-matter is created and is owned by the creator of the work. You automatically get copyright protection when you create original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
While you can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name, and the year of creation, failure to do so does not affect the level of protection you have.
You get copyright protection automatically – you don’t have to apply or pay a fee. There isn’t a register of copyright works in the UK. You should also note that the “urban myth” that you should mail yourself a copy of the work you wish to copyright is ineffective in creating legal evidence of copyright.
Types of Rights
If you own the copyright in a work, you have exclusive rights over certain uses of that work. These rights fall into two categories: economic rights and moral rights.
Economic rights give you the opportunity to make commercial gain from the exploitation of your works. This would usually be by licensing others to use the work, or by selling the rights.The author of a copyright work has the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit the following acts:
- Reproduction. Includes copying a work in any way. For example, photocopying, reproducing a printed page by handwriting, typing or scanning into a computer, or taping recorded music.
- Distribution. Includes issuing copies of a work to the public. This would include, for example, exhibiting a work or selling copies.This right only applies the first time a copy of a work enters into commercial circulation and so would not prevent the re-sale of that copy, for example by a second hand shop.
- Communication to the public. This covers communication of a work to the public by electronic transmission. This would include broadcasting a work or putting it on the internet.
Moral rights protect those non-economic interests. Unlike economic rights, moral rights cannot be sold or otherwise transferred. However, the rights holder can choose to waive these rights. There are four moral rights recognized in the UK:
- The right to attribution. This is the right to be recognized as the author of a work if this is the desire of the creator.
- The right to object to derogatory treatment of a work. Derogatory treatment is defined as any addition, deletion, alteration to, or adaptation of a work that amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work, or is otherwise prejudicial to reputation of the creator.
- The right to object to false attribution. This is the right not to be named as the author of a work you did not create.
- The right to privacy of certain photographs and films. This right enables someone who has commissioned a photograph or film for private and domestic purposes to prevent it from being made available or exhibited to the public. For example, this would allows a client to prevent a photographer from putting your wedding photographs on their website without their permission.
Assignment of Rights
Copyright can be assigned or a license granted by the copyright owner to allow for some of the activities mentioned above, like reproducing, editing/altering, selling or publishing. These assignments can be made in whole or part and relate to a specific geographic territory, medium, or sector for a period of time or the whole term of the copyright. Any assignment or license must be in writing signed by the owner.
How long does copyright last?
Generally, for photographic images, copyright lasts for the life of the author, and seventy years following the death of the author.
How to register Copyright in the UK
There are no official copyright registers, nor is copyright registration a legal requirement. There are private services which offer copyright “registration” and promise to maintain independently verifiable copies of the work in separate geographical location. These services claim that registration can make it easier to prove a claim, speed up decisions and reduce legal costs in future plagiarism or infringement disputes.
Whether an intellectual property infringement is of the copyrights or moral rights, the holder of those rights can sue for that infringement. There are exceptions and defenses to claims of infringement which include: fair use — parody, satire, educational use, — and reproduction for private purposes, restoration or preservation.
If a person (including a company) infringes copyright, then they are liable to pay damages to the copyright owner based on the loss they have suffered due to the infringement and, in addition to those damages, such part of the profits that the infringer has made from the infringement.
This article sought to provide a brief overview of UK copyright law. In some areas we have barely scratched the surface. For specific circumstances, it is always best to consult an attorney familiar with the law in your country.