What is copyright?

Copyright is an unregistered right that comes into being automatically so is easily obtainable. Copyright can be used to prevent others reproducing your work or dealing with unauthorised copies. Only specific types of work are eligible for protection. A significant amount of copyright may be created during the design process and this is often the only way to prove what you have and enforce it against others. It’s therefore good practice to document copyright properly.

Would my product qualify for copyright protection?


Copyright protects:

  • Original literary
  • Dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • Sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions
  • Computer programmes.

How long does copyright last?


Copyright lasts longer than any other intellectual property right – typically as long as the life of the creator of the copyright work plus seventy years. However for artistic works that have been industrially manufactured to produce more than 50 copies, copyright is reduced to 25 years from first marketing of the work.

Who owns the copyright in the work?


The author of a work generally owns any copyright in it unless the design was made during the author’s employment. In this case, the copyright belongs to the employer unless there is an agreement that says otherwise, then that takes precedence.

Works created under commission will belong to the designer. A written assignment between the author and the commissioning part, signed by both parties, is needed to assign the copyright to the commissioning party. To avoid uncertainty and potential disputes, it is important that ownership rights and the rights to exploit the copyright work, are agreed in writing at the outset.

How do I get copyright protection?


Copyright comes into being automatically. For literary, dramatic and artistic works, copyright only subsists when the work is recorded in writing or otherwise. It’s therefore important that sufficient records are maintained as to when and by whom a work was made so that existence of copyright can be established if required.

Registration of copyright is not necessary or possible in the UK/EU. Works created on a computer will have time/date stamps. For other works, to be able to prove the date of creation (if ever needed) you may wish to consider depositing a signed and dated copy of the relevant work with a solicitor, bank or IP firm such as Barker Brettell.

How is copyright infringed?


Copyright is infringed only by unauthorised reproduction of the work in question, or of a substantial part of that work. Dealing with infringing copies (such as selling or importing them) may also be considered infringement. However copyright is not infringed by independent creation of the same work.

For example, reproducing somebody else’s photographs and including them in a book would infringe copyright. Infringement may also occur by unauthorised distribution or installation of programs, copying and/or modification of source and/or object codes. Conversely, legitimate users of a programme, such as those who have legally obtained the work or a license to use the work, are entitled to make security backup copies of it and they may carry out “reverse engineering” and use its operating principles without infringing copyright.

To help assert copyright, each copyright work should be dated and marked “copyright of…”. Alternatively the symbol © can be used with the date and name of the copyright owner e.g. © YEAR NAME. This will provide information to third parties and may have a deterrent effect on competitors considering copying the work in question.