Copyright

Frequently asked questions​​​


  Image (c) Danny Peart Photography ​

Click to expandWhat is copyright?

Copyright protects against the deliberate copying of creative works. This can include such things as books, catalogues, music, artwork, graphics, sound recordings, broadcasts, photographs and films, and computer software.​

Click to expandCan I copyright an idea?

No. Ideas and concepts themselves can’t be protected. Once an idea has been expressed in a tangible form – eg written down or recorded in some other way there may be copyright in this recording.

Click to expandHow do I apply for copyright?

​In the UK copyright is an automatic right which exists as soon as the work to which it is related is created and written down or recorded in some way. Therefore there is no application process required and no cost involved.

Click to expandIs there a register of copyright?

No. Because it is an automatic right there is no official register of copyright in the UK. It is therefore important to be able to show as far as you can when the work first existed. A relatively simple way to do this is to post a copy to yourself by Special Delivery (thereby obtaining a dated receipt) and leave the envelope unopened when you receive it. Alternatively you could deposit a copy with a bank or solicitor and once again obtain a dated receipt. If a copyright case came to court it may help to show that the work was in existence at that time. It does not prove that the work is yours.

Click to expandHow long does copyright last?

Generally copyright in the UK lasts for 70 years after the end of the year in which the originator died (if a group of people were involved in creating the work then the term is likely to be based on the last person in the group to die). There are exceptions to this – for example the copyright in a sound recording will normally last for 70 years from the end of the year in which it was created or released.​

Click to expandDo I have to mark my work in any way?

It is not essential in the UK but it is required in certain countries. Using the © symbol followed by your name or company name and the year of creation is helpful in indicating that copyright exists and makes others aware that you intend to assert your rights. It can also make it easier to claim damages from someone who infringes your copyright.

Click to expandCan I carry out a search for works that already have copyright protection in the same way that I can with patents, trade marks and designs?

No. Because copyright is an automatic right there is no official register of copyright in the UK. You may be able to trace the owner of a specific copyright work by contacting the relevant copyright collecting society if, for example, you are hoping to get permission from the copyright owner to use that work.

Click to expandWhat is a copyright collecting society?

​A collecting society manages the rights of copyright owners and has permission to licence copyright works on behalf of those owners. They also collect and distribute royalties owed to the copyright owners.

Click to expandDoes copyright protect my works abroad?

Most major countries are members of international copyright conventions which recognise copyright which has originated in any member country. However, there are countries which do not do so.

Click to expandWhat is Database Right?

It is possible to protect the content of a database with database right if you can show that there has been significant investment in obtaining, presenting, verifying and maintaining the content. Like copyright, database right is an automatic right. It lasts for 15 years from when the database is created or 15 years from when it is first made public. It is possible that both copyright and database right could apply to a particular database.​

Click to expandIs there any free advice available?

Business & IP Centre staff will be happy to answer any queries you may have. We also run regular free clinics in conjunction with CIPA (The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys) where you can discuss your ideas in confidence with an attorney. Patent attorneys are qualified in dealing with all aspects of intellectual property, including copyright.