Copyright protects original musical, literary & artistic works such as songs & musical compositions, sculptures, drawings & paintings, short stories, novels, scripts for film & theatre. It can also protect works which might consist of multiple copyrights such as computer games, music videos, films & video clips, website content.
What is copyright?
Copyright protects the time, effort and creativity of authors of original musical, literary and artistic works by allowing them to prevent the copying of their creations by third parties. While it is difficult to define a set test for originality, and much depends on the facts of a specific case, it is generally understood that to be original a work does not need to be groundbreaking: but it has to be the author’s own creation on which the author has expended time, effort and skill.
It is important to note that there is no copyright in an idea: the work must be recorded in material form for there to be copyright in it. Taking the example of a novel or film script, there is no copyright until pen has been put to paper.
Unlike trade marks or designs, there is no registration process for copyright in the UK, and no official searchable database of copyright works.
It is often the case that where there might at first appear to be one original work there are actually two or more (for example, a song might consist of original lyrics in which copyright subsists, an original musical work in which a second copyright subsists, together with a third copyright in the original sound or musical arrangement).
Who owns the copyright in a work?
The general rule is that the creator owns the copyright in a work. There are some important exceptions to this; for example, if a work is created by commission or during the course of employment, the copyright owner is generally the commissioner or the employer. On the other hand, if the work was created outside of the ordinary course of employment, it may be that it is the original creator and not the employer who is the copyright owner.
To avoid uncertainty about who actually owns copyright in a work in situations where it is created during the course of employment or a commission, it is advisable to have a contractual agreement in place that clearly stipulates who the copyright owner will be, before the work is created. If you have employees that create copyright works during their employment, you should ensure that employment contracts sets out who the copyright owner will be in advance. Similarly, where a work has been commissioned, or created by a group of people working together, there should be a written contract stipulating who owns copyright in the work.
As with trade marks & designs, copyright in works can be assigned or licensed on certain terms. This makes them potentially very valuable business assets.
What are the rights of the copyright owner?
A copyright owner has the exclusive right to copy the work, make performances of the work in public, broadcast the work, or to make adaptions of the work. Accordingly, the copyright owner has the right to stop unauthorised third party copying of the whole or a substantial part of the copyright work. The creator of a copyright work also has the right to be identified as its creator.
How long does copyright last?
The duration of copyright differs according to the category of the work in question. Common types of work subject to copyright are listed below, together with the length of the copyright protection in each case:
- Written, dramatic, musical and artistic works: life of the author plus 70 years.
- Sound and music recordings: 70 years from when the sound or music recording is first published.
- Films: 70 years after the death of the director, author of the screenplay, and the composer.
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