The UK copyright law fact sheet outlines the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the principal legislation covering intellectual property rights in the United Kingdom and the work to which it applies.
Copyright law originated in the United Kingdom from a concept of common law; the Statute of Anne 1709. It became statutory with the passing of the Copyright Act 1911. The current act is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The law gives the creators of literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works, sound recordings, broadcasts, films and typographical arrangement of published editions, rights to control the ways in which their material may be used.
The rights cover; broadcast and public performance, copying, adapting, issuing, renting and lending copies to the public.
In many cases, the creator will also have the right to be identified as the author and to object to distortions of his work.
International conventions give protection in most countries, subject to national laws.
Types of work protected
Song lyrics, manuscripts, manuals, computer programs, commercial documents, leaflets, newsletters & articles etc.
Plays, dance, etc.
Recordings and score.
Photography, painting, sculptures, architecture, technical drawings/diagrams, maps, logos.
Typographical arrangement of published editions
Magazines, periodicals, etc.
may be recordings of other copyright works, e.g. musical and literary.
Video footage, films, broadcasts and cable programmes.
The Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations 1992 extended the rules covering literary works to include computer programs.
When rights occur
Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work. To qualify, a work should be regarded as original, and exhibit a degree of labour, skill or judgement.
Interpretation is related to the independent creation rather than the idea behind the creation. For example, your idea for a book would not itself be protected, but the actual content of a book you write would be. In other words, someone else is still entitled to write their own book around the same idea, provided they do not directly copy or adapt yours to do so.
Names, titles, short phrases and colours are not generally considered unique or substantial enough to be covered, but a creation, such as a logo, that combines these elements may be.
In short, work that expresses an idea may be protected, but not the idea behind it.
Who owns a piece of work
Normally the individual or collective who authored the work will exclusively own the work and is referred to as the ‘first owner of copyright’ under the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. However, if a work is produced as part of employment then the first owner will normally be the company that is the employer of the individual who created the work.
Freelance or commissioned work will usually belong to the author of the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, (i.e. in a contract for service).
Just like any other asset, copyright may be transferred or sold by the copyright owner to another party.
Rights cannot be claimed for any part of a work which is a copy taken from a previous work. For example, in a piece of music featuring samples from a previous work, the copyright of the samples would still remain with the original author.
Only the owner, or his exclusive licensee can bring proceedings in the courts.
Duration of copyright
The 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act states the duration of copyright as;
For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last remaining author of the work dies.
If the author is unknown, copyright will last for 70 years from end of the calendar year in which the work was created, although if it is made available to the public during that time, (by publication, authorised performance, broadcast, exhibition, etc.), then the duration will be 70 years from the end of the year that the work was first made available.
Sound Recordings and broadcasts
50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was created, or, if the work is released within that time: 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first released.
70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last principal director, author or composer dies. If the work is of unknown authorship: 70 years from end of the calendar year of creation, or if made available to the public in that time, 70 years from the end of the year the film was first made available.
Typographical arrangement of published editions
25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published.
Broadcasts and cable programmes
50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made.
Crown CopyrightCrown copyright will exist in works made by an officer of the Crown, this includes items such as legislation and documents and reports produced by government bodies. Crown Copyright will last for a period of 125 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made. If the work was commercially published within 75 years of the end of the calendar year in which it was made, Crown copyright will last for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was published.
Parliamentary Copyright will apply to work that is made by or under the direction or control of the House of Commons or the House of Lords and will last until 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.
It is an offence to perform any of the following acts without the consent of the owner:
Copy the work.
Rent, lend or issue copies of the work to the public.
Perform, broadcast or show the work in public.
Adapt the work.
The author of a work, or a director of a film may also have certain moral rights:
The right to be identified as the author.
Right to object to derogatory treatment.
Acts that are allowed
Fair dealing is a term used to describe acts which are permitted to a certain degree without infringing the work, these acts are:
Private and research study purposes.
Performance, copies or lending for educational purposes.
Criticism and news reporting.
Copies and lending by librarians.
Acts for the purposes of royal commissions, statutory enquiries, judicial proceedings and parliamentary purposes.
Recording of broadcasts for the purposes of listening to or viewing at a more convenient time, this is known as time shifting.
Producing a back up copy for personal use of a computer program.
Playing sound recording for a non profit making organisation, club or society.
(Profit making organisations and individuals should obtain a license from PRS for Music.)
Intellectual Property Office
Tel: 0300 300 2000
PRS for Music
29-33 Berners Street
Tel. (0207) 580 5544
Copyright Licensing Agency
6-10 Kirby Street
Tel. 020 7400 3100
The original text for the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patent Act can be found at the OSPI (HMSO) website, but should be read in conjunction with all the relevant updates and statutory instruments.To avoid confusion, we recommend a copy that includes the amendments since 1988, such as can can be found at the Office of Public Sector Information,www.jenkins-ip.com or download as a PDF file directly from the Intellectual Property Office.
Issued: 16th March 2005
Last amended: 16th March 2005
Exploring copyright issues in photography, registration advice and specific considerations that apply to photographers.
Who owns the copyright on photographs?
Under law, it is the photographer who will own copyright on any photos he/she has taken, with the following exceptions:
If the photographer is an employee of the company the photos are taken for, or is an employee of a company instructed to take the photos, the photographer will be acting on behalf of his/her employer, and the company the photographer works for will own the copyright.
If there is an agreement that assigns copyright to another party.
In all other cases, the photographer will retain the copyright, if the photographer has been paid for his work, the payment will be for the photographer’s time and typically an allocated number of prints. The copyright to the photos will remain with the photographer, and therefore any reproduction without permission would be an infringement of copyright.
If Bill Smith asks Peter Jones the photographer to photograph his wedding. Peter Jones will normally provide a single copy of the prints as part of the fee, but any additional prints Bill or his family and friend want must be ordered via Peter as he is the copyright owner and controls who can copy his work. If Bill Smith engages the services of XYZ-Photos for the same job, and Peter is an employee of XYZ-Photo who instruct Peter to take the photos, XYZ-Photos will be the copyright owner and control how they are used.
Why register?The purpose of registration is to ensure that you have proper, independently verifiable, evidence of the date and content your work. This ensures that if another party steals your photos you have solid evidence to prove your claim.
Without registration it can be very difficult, and often impossible, to prove your ownership if another person claims the photo belong to them.
Protect whole collections for a single feeIt is possible to submit a great many photos within a single registration, and only pay a single registration fee.
For advice on registering photographic works, please see our factsheet P-24: Registering photographic work.
Using the work of othersAs with all copyright work, you should first obtain permission from the copyright owner before you use someone else’s work.You should also be prepared to pay a fee, as many photographers will charge you for using their work.
Only the copyright owner, (or his/her authorised representative), can give permission, so you should contact the photographer, or his/her company, directly for consent. For images published on the Internet, it is typical to contact the webmaster of the site in the first instance, unless the site provides contact details for the owner of the images.
The copyright owner has no obligation to allow you to use their work, and can refuse permission for any reason.
Marking your workThe two primary reasons for marking your work are to ensure that those accessing your images are clear that copyright exists and that they know who to contact to obtain permission.
Contact informationWe often receive enquiries from individuals and organisations wishing to use specific photos, but who are unable to trace the owner. It seems that many images are marked as ‘copyright image do not reproduce without permission’, but that the photographer omitted to include their contact details. This is frustrating to the person wishing to use the image and also means that the photographer may miss out on reproduction fees and exposure.
Copyright noticesWe do recommended that you mark your work with a copyright notice, as this makes it clear that copyright exists, and helps to deter infringement. Please see our fact sheet P-03: Using copyright notices for information on wording you notices.
For traditional prints, it is customary to use a stamp to mark the copyright notice and the copyright owners contact details on the back of the print
If you display your photos online, you may choose to use photo editing software to place a simple copyright notice across the image, (typically this will appear in the bottom corner). Ideally it should include the address of the web site so that it is clear where to go to find contact details.
For electronic images, it is also possible to include the copyright/contact details in the file properties. Under Windows for example, right clicking on a image will allow you to bring up the properties dialogue where you may enter details about the file, (though this will only work with certain file types). More typically, your image software will provide a way to insert comments into the file; this is preferred as these are harder to remove.
Watermarking may be worth considering if you have a lot of valuable images on your site.
Model release formsAn individual has certain rights to control the use of their image. The specific details will vary from one country to another depending on national legislation, although the general rule seems to be to protect a person against defamatory or offensive use of their image. If you intend to sell or distribute images that include people, then it is worth getting your subjects to sign a model release form as this will protect you against any comeback.
A search on Google for ‘Model Release Forms’ should reveal a number of example documents that you can use.