If you create an original work, it may be eligible for copyright protection. Once your work has left your mind and has physical form, then it will be covered automatically by copyright, as spelt out in the Berne Convention of 1886, to which the majority of countries are signatories. The intention of copyright is to protect your rights, to prevent others from benefitting illicitly from your creativity. For instance, if you take a photograph of yourself, then you have copyright of the image.

In the UK, copyright is covered by the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 (CPDA), and works which are subject to copyright include:

  • Literary, dramatic and musical works, and published editions thereof
  • Artistic work, including buildings, photographs, engravings etc.
  • Sound and film recordings
  • Broadcasts
  • Cable programs, that is, anything program sent by a non-wireless means of communication

The CPDA establishes that the creator has exclusive rights to the work, essentially the ‘right to copy’ it. Depending on the type of work, copyright will last for either for 25 (in the case of typographical arrangements), 50 (mainly for broadcasts and sound recordings, or computer-generated works) or 70 years (for literary, dramatic and musical works, and films). The CPDA also allows for the possibility of perpetual copyright, as famously displayed in the award of copyright for performances, adaptations, publications and broadcast of Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital in the UK.

A live performer also has copyright over the recording and broadcast of their performances, which is why many modern musicians have expressed dismay about the rise of smartphone recordings during gigs. By disseminating copies of the recordings on sites such as YouTube, fans are infringing upon the rights of their favourite artists.

Infringement of copyright essentially occurs wherever a work is used without permission. However, there are some exceptions, generally falling under the broad spectrum of ‘fair dealing’. This includes use of works for research purposes or in news reporting, use in educational contexts, or for archiving and administrative purposes.

In the modern era of digital communications, it can be difficult to enforce copyright, and piracy of copyrighted material is rife. Attempts to deal with copyright infringement on the internet, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), have been met with great resistance, and the subject is the focus of much discussion.

The copyright © symbol

Countries respecting the Berne Convention subscribe to the idea that copyright is established when the work is created. As such, the copyright symbol © is not a necessity to establish copyright, although this was the case in the US prior to 1989, when they became signatories to the Berne Convention.

The © symbol is still seen today as a form of secondary protection. If your work displays the copyright symbol, then if your copyright is infringed, the infringing party is much less likely to be able to use the defence of accidental infringement successfully.

What isn’t covered by copyright?

Because it sounds straightforward, copyright is often used as a catchall for intellectual property law in general; you have the right over copy of your work. Copyright only forms one part of intellectual property.

You cannot copyright a name or slogan, in which case you will need to obtain a registered trademark if you require protection. Inventions are also not covered by copyright. To prevent your idea from being copied, you will need a patent. If you have a new design for an existing product, then you can obtain protection with a registered design.

The linking factor between trademarks, patents and designs here is that you do not automatically receive protection for such intellectual property in the same way as for copyright. For more information and advice on intellectual property protection, contact us at Albright Patents LLP, where we will be happy to assist.