What is Copyright?

Copyright is one of the main types of intellectual property - others include designs, patents and trademarks. Intellectual property allows a person to own things they create in the same way as something physical can be owned. Copyright is the right to prevent others copying or reproducing someone's work.

The main legislation dealing with copyright in the United Kingdom is the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. E RADAR provides a basic overview for IT managers and digital decision makers who are tasked with protecting the organisation's copyright assets.

Organisations are responsible for protecting breaches of copyright that can occur in different ways. For example, worker use of email and the Internet is a particularly weak point, especially if they send, download and publish copyrighted materials.

When does copyright arise?

Copyright arises automatically when a work that qualifies for protection is created. The work must be original in that it needs to originate with the author who will have used some judgment or skill to create the work - simply copying a work does not make it original. There is no need in the UK to register copyright. When an idea is committed to paper or another fixed form, it can be protected by copyright. It is the expression of the idea that is protected and not the idea itself. People cannot be stopped from borrowing an idea or producing something similar but can be stopped from copying.

What does copyright protect?

Top 100 Tech Lawyers, what is copyrightThe main categories of works currently protected in the UK include:

  • original literary works such as novels or poems, tables or lists and computer programmes;
  • original dramatic works such as dance or mime;
  • original musical works, ie the musical notes themselves;
  • original artistic works such as graphic works (paintings, drawings etc), photographs and sculptures;
  • sound recordings;
  • films;
  • broadcasts;
  • typographical arrangements (ie the layout or actual appearance) of published editions

Who owns copyright?

As a general rule, the owner of the copyright is the person who created it, i.e. the author. An author could be the writer, the composer, the artist, the producer or the publisher or another creator depending on the type of work.

One important exception to this is when an employee creates a work in the course of their employment in which case the copyright owner will be the employer.

Joint ownership of copyright

Where more than one person is involved in the creation of a work and it is not possible to distinguish exactly what each contributed, copyright will be owned jointly and no single contributor can publish or license the work without the consent of the other/s.

What rights does a copyright owner have?

A copyright owner has both economic and moral rights.

Economic rights cover acts that only the copyright owner can do or authorise. These include the right to copy the work, distribute copies of it, rent or lend it, perform or show it, communicate it to the public (including making it available online) or adapt it (e.g. making it into a play).

Moral rights include the right to be identified as the author, the right not to have a work that they did not create falsely attributed to them and the right to object to the derogatory treatment of the work. Moral rights are rights authors retain in their works irrespective of who owns the economic rights - they can be waived, but not licensed or assigned.

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