What is copyright?

The purpose of copyright is to allow creators who have invested in the independent intellectual effort to gain commercially from their work and therefore stop others from replicating or exploiting the work. 

A copyright holder has the exclusive right to make and sell copies of the work, publicly show the work, import or export the work and assign these rights to others.

It should be noted that although copyright protects the work (or an expression of an idea), it does not protect the idea behind that work.

The type of works protected by copyright are:

  • Original literary works, for example, novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, lyrics for songs, articles in newspapers and some types of databases, but not names or titles.
  • Original dramatic works, including works of dance or mime.
  • Original musical works.
  • Original artistic works, for example, paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, works of architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos.
  • Published editions of works, for example, the typographical arrangement of a publication.
  • Sound recordings, which may be recordings on any medium, for example, tape or compact disc, and maybe recordings of other copyright works, for example, musical or literary.
  • Films, including videos.
  • Broadcasts.

How do I prove the work is mine? If your work is valuable it may be an idea to deposit a copy of the work with a bank or solicitor to prove the date of origin. 

Copyright is an unregistered right since it does not work in the same way as say, patents or registered trademarks, which are registered to a central database. Copyright protection is automatic as soon as the creator's work has been recorded in any form (on paper, sound recording, film or online).

Marking your copyright work with the copyright symbol © followed by your name and the date will warn others against copying it, but it is not legally essential in the UK. If your work is published on a website it's a good idea to set out the extent to which you're happy someone uses copyright material elsewhere without your permission. For example, if you're a journalist and you're happy that others use 250 words so long as there's a link to your site/blog.

More on legal issues.