Copyright Law Specialists
The main purpose of copyright is to reward authors for the creation of original works which involve a degree of creativity. Copyright seeks to protect the form of the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.
Identifying your copyright
The following categories of works are protected by UK Copyright Law (The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988):
- Original literary (including pretty much anything written down provided the requirements for copyright protection are satisfied eg a database, computer code, design specifications or marketing plans), dramatic, musical and artistic works (including graphic works, photographs, sculpture, collage, 3 dimensional creations, charts and maps);
- Sound recordings, films or broadcasts;
- Typographical arrangements of published editions.
Copyright lasts for a set period – most often the life of the author plus 70 years.
Requirements for copyright protection
To qualify for copyright protection, your work must be:
- Original – it must have been created through the author’s own skill and individual effort and not be copied from anywhere else;
- Have some degree of creative merit – a simple drawing of a stick man for example will have a much lower level of copyright protection than a Damien Hirst sculpture; and
- You must be able to prove that you are the owner. Sometimes this can be difficult [see below].
You must be able to prove you are the owner of the copyright work which can be difficult if:
- You created it as an employee during the usual course of your employment
- You created it with someone else
- Someone else created it for you
In these cases you will need to investigate the ownership position further. Usually, copyright is owned by the creator of the work. However when a work is made during the course of employment, the Intellectual Property rights are owned by the employer. It is not always clear what amounts to producing a work during the course of employment; but factors taken into consideration include being instructed to make the specific work, making the work during office hours, using office equipment, etc.
Be clear in any employment or service contract as to both what counts as work made during and outside employment. Try to limit the contract to allow you to produce work for yourself in your own free time if you are an employee. If you are an employer try to do the reverse.
With regard to commissioned works, it is a common misconception that if you commissioned someone to create something for you, you will own the copyright. Sadly this is not the case and copyright remains with the artist (even if the work has been sold) as the original creator. This is the situation unless (i) the author/creator expressly agrees that the commissioner will own the copyright and they have entered into an assignment in writing or (ii) it can be implied from the circumstances that it was equitable for the commissioner to own the copyright (e.g. the work was created for a specific, commercial purpose).
Always ensure you have a written agreement with the commissioner, which states that you retain the intellectual property. The agreement should set out a licence for the commissioner to use your intellectual property in circumstances specified by you (e.g., price, range of uses). A clear, written licence ensures that the commissioner is not able to exploit your work where you would not intend.
Copyright protection arises automatically in the UK and most of the rest of the world. It is a private right so each copyright owner will have to protect their own copyright. In some countries you must mark your work with the recognised © symbol followed by your name and date of publication. This is not strictly necessary in the UK but it may help establish the date of creation and show other parties that you are commercially aware of your rights.
Exploiting your copyright
Copyright protection means you can stop anyone else from copying, adapting, distributing, renting or lending your copyright work or performing it in public without your permission. It may allow you to generate further income by granting licences to people to enable them to use your copyright material.
Enforcing your copyright
As with all Intellectual Property rights, you must actively enforce them in order for them to be effective. It usually saves time and money if you first try to sort out the matter with the person you think has used your work without permission. This is called ‘copyright infringement’. If you cannot do this, you may need to take legal action but make sure you contact a specialist Copyright Lawyer.
I have written a children’s story – can I copyright it?
The advice is very simple – you don’t need to.
Along with other authors, by writing a story you are automatically entitled to copyright protection– as soon as you put the story down into writing or even store it in some form of electronic form having dictated it – provided it is an original work and you can prove that you are the author. However to warn others of your copyright, just put the copyright symbol (©) , and follow it with your name and when you created the work – e.g. © Tim Bishop 2020.
How our Copyright Lawyers can help
Our Copyright Lawyers help identify and value your Intellectual Property Rights, so you can obtain full commercial benefit of the creative investment you have made.
Our Copyright Lawyers can help you recognise, build and exploit your intellectual property by establishing business relationships and strategies to grow the value of your business.