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Detailed Practice Notes written by our Professional Support Lawyers, guiding you through the key issues in each topic.
Copyright - overview
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) sets out current UK copyright law. It took effect from 1 August 1989. Transitional provisions apply to pre-existing works.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property protecting artistic or creative works, such as books and other written material, drama, music, art, sound and video recordings, broadcasts and software. Different versions of a work may be protected by different copyrights, eg the book and stage versions of a play.
Copyright protects the expression of information or an idea, not the information or idea itself.
Copyright arises automatically on creation, provided that a work is original. This requires that skill, labour and judgment (not necessarily creativity) has gone into its creation. A work need not be unique; thus, separate copyrights may exist in two similar, although independently created, works.
Ownership, assignment and licensing
Copyright is normally owned by the author or creator of a work or, if created in the course of employment, his employer. Specific rules apply to copyright ownership in films, where the owners are the producer and principal director, published editions, where the publisher is the owner and computer-generated works, where the person arranging creation owns the copyright. If there is more than one author, the copyright is owned jointly and all owners must consent to restricted acts.
Copyright can be licensed or assigned in writing, eg by an author to a publisher.
The CDPA gives the copyright owner exclusive rights in the UK to do the following, known as 'restricted acts':
copy the work
issue copies ie. publish, rent or lend it, or communicate it to the public, including broadcasting
perform or show it in public, and
adapt it, or do any of the restricted acts in relation to an adaptation.
Without the owner's consent, such acts constitute infringement of copyright.
Exceptions to copyright infringement
Fair dealing with works is allowed for private study or non-commercial research, as is criticism, review or reporting, with acknowledgement. Decompilation of software is allowed for interoperability. Other exceptions exist for libraries and educational establishments. Limitations apply to databases and musical works.
UK copyright normally lasts for the life of the author (if joint, the last surviving author) plus 70 years. Specific rules apply:
to broadcasts and computer generated works (50 years from making or creation)
to films (70 years from the death of the director or other principals)
where the author is unknown or his nationality and the work's country of origin are outside the EEA.
Government and similar copyrights
Government material is treated as Crown or Parliamentary copyright or protected as an Act or Measure, normally for 50 years from creation, publication or (for Acts) Royal Assent. The United Nations and certain other international organisations also enjoy their own copyrights.
Since 1998 a separate database right has existed for databases where substantial work has gone into them, rather than the contents, which may also attract copyright protection. Database right is owned by the compiler of the database and lasts for 15 years. See Practice Note: Overview - Database right.
Rights which are distinct from copyright may also apply to creative works.
Moral rights give authors of certain works the rights to be identified as the author in certain circumstances, and to object to derogatory treatment. Film directors enjoy similar rights. Moral rights must be asserted in writing, but can be waived. The rights do not apply to software, to employers' copyrights, or to material in periodicals or reference works.
Privacy right requires the consent of a person commissioning films or photographs for private use before they are released or shown to the public.
Performance rights require the consent of performers in certain live performances (dramatic, musical, literary readings and variety acts) to certain acts in relation to the performance, principally:
copying, recording and broadcasting
commercial import of recordings, and
renting or making available copies to the public.
Such rights may be licensed or assigned. Performers are also entitled to equitable remuneration for performances or communications to the public.
Artists' resale right gives an artist a right to royalty on a sale of his/her work in certain circumstances.
Design right applies to prevent copying of original designs of the shape or configuration of products. It may be registered or unregistered.
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