Copyright Basics

What is copyright?
Copyright is an Intellectual Property Right (IPR). Other IPRs include Patents and Trademarks. Rights closely related to Copyright include Moral Rights, Database Right and Publication Right.

Copyright law gives the owner of a copyright various rights to control the way in which their work is used. These rights may extend beyond copying to include distribution, performance and other acts. Copyright law also makes some provision for the users of copyright work.

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) is the primary piece of IPR legislation in the UK. It is amended and supplemented by various other pieces of legislation, particularly Statutory Instruments (SIs), some of which implement EU directives within the UK.

In the UK, copyright protection exists automatically; there is no need to register a work to record its ownership.

Why is copyright important?
Copyright is a legal right. Infringement in the UK can lead to both civil and criminal penalties (i.e. fines and custodial sentences). The only way to avoid such infringements is to act in accordance with the law, or in accordance with a private agreement with the copyright holder.

In addition, certain licences also exist which grant the use (according to specific conditions) of certain copyright material. The University subscribes to several copyright licences. Compliance with copyright law, individual agreements and licence terms and conditions is essential if infringement is to be avoided. Licensors may revoke their licences if faced with evidence of infringement.

What types of work are protected by copyright?
A work must be recorded in some form to be subject to copyright. Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, and typographical arrangements are all subject to copyright protection. Compilations and databases are subject to copyright and also to the entirely separate Database Right. Works are protected whether they exist in print or electronic format.

  • Literary Works : These are works that are written or printed, spoken or sung, and include books, tables and computer programs.
  • Dramatic and Musical Works : In copyright law, a dramatic work is the non-spoken part of a performance – e.g. stage directions or choreography, and a musical work is the notation of the sound. The spoken or sung words of dramatic and musical creations are protected as literary works.
  • Artistic Works : This covers a wide range of media including drawings, paintings, photographs, slides, maps, plans, sculptures, etc.
  • Sound Recordings : This applies to recorded sound in any technical format.
  • Films : The definition of film covers all moving image technologies, including video.
  • Broadcasts : A broadcast is an electronic transmission of sounds and images for simultaneous reception by the public. This includes cable programmes and some types of Internet transmission, but not ‘on demand’ services such as the BBC’s ‘listen again’ service, where the user and not the provider determines the time of transmission.
  • Typographical arrangements :The layout of a printed or electronic page is subject to typographical copyright, in addition to any copyright that may exist in the content of the page.

Who owns copyright?
The initial owner of copyright is usually the person who creates the original work (generally known as the ‘author’). If a work is created in the course of employment, the copyright is owned by the employer unless there is an agreement to the contrary. For works created by a member of staff of the University, the Terms & Conditions of that person’s Contract of Employment need to be checked to ascertain ownership. As with other forms of property, copyrights can be traded, so the current owner of copyright may not be the original author or employer. Frequently, more than one copyright may exist in a work.

What rights does a copyright owner have?
A copyright owner has the exclusive right to control copying, performance, exhibition, adaptation or translation of their work. They also have an excusive right to make the work available to the public, including renting or lending it.

These rights may be qualified by other provisions of the CDPA designed to balance the rights of copyright owners with the needs of users – e.g. fair dealing.

How long does copyright protection last?
Generally, for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, and films, copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the author died. The rules regarding photographs are quite complicated.

For sound recordings and broadcasts copyright protection generally lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording or broadcast was made.

For typographical arrangements, copyright protection lasts for 25 years from the end of the year of publication.

Is permission always required to do anything with a copyright work?
Often, but not always. It may be legitimate to use the work if one of the following applies:

  • The use to be made of the work is covered by an exception in the CDPA. For example, copying for illustration for insstruction, or for non-commercial research or private study may be covered by a “fair dealing” exception.
  • An ‘insubstantial’ part of the work is used. Copyright only covers a ‘substantial’ part of the work. What constitutes ‘substantial’ is rather complex – it is primarily a qualitative rather than a quantitative judgement. See this question When I am preparing course notes or writing an article for publication, how much can I quote from a work by another author without requiring permission? for more details.
  • The University holds a licence which permits the intended use of the work. Licences held by the University include, the Copyright Agency Licence which permits the copying of extracts from most books and journals; the Newspaper Licensing Agency Licence which permits photocopying of text from certain newspapers; and the Educational Recording Agency and Open University licences, which cover the off-air recording of television and radio programmes.

What is fair dealing?
The CDPA sets out some specific circumstances in which copyright works may be reproduced without infringement, providing the copying can be justified as ‘fair dealing’.

Exactly how much copying might constitute ‘fair dealing’ in either of these circumstances is not defined in the Act, but must be considered on a case by case basis.

Other fair dealing provisions cover quotation of works for the purposes of criticism and review, and news reporting.

What are moral rights?
These are rights which authors possess independently of copyright. There are three – the right to not have their work treated in a derogatory way, the right not to have works written by others attributed to them, and the right to be identified as the author of their own work. The last of these does not apply in every case. To avoid infringing an author’s moral rights it is wise to make full and proper acknowledgement whenever you use any 3rd party material.

What is database right?
A database is a collection of works or data organised in a systematic way. Both electronic and paper-based collections may be databases. Databases are only subject to copyright if they are the result of personal intellectual activity, but any database is subject to database right, which is quite separate. A database is protected even if it consists entirely of out of copyright material.

Database right lasts for 15 years from the end of the year in which the database was completed. In practice, this means that computer databases that are regularly revised are always protected by database right.

The owner of a database has the right to control the extraction or reuse of a substantial part of the database’s contents.