Skip to main content
01753 876 800

A Basic Guide to Copyright in the UK

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a right to prevent others from using or copying work without the consent of the copyright owner. Copyright is governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1998 and is a property right which vests in original literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works in additional to sound recordings, films/broadcasts and typographical arrangements.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea but not the intangible idea itself. Copyright will not subsist (exist) unless the work is ‘original’. The author of the work must use show a degree of skill and effort to create the work. Work that has been copied (even if partially) will not attract copyright protection.

How can I get copyright protection – are there any formal steps?

There are no formalities for copyright protection. Copyright protects original works automatically as soon as it is recorded in a permanent form such as writing it down or recording it electronically.

How long does copyright last?

In most cases, copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

For sound recordings, copyright protection lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made, however, if it is published, it lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first published. If the sound recording is not published but communicated to the public, it lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first made available.

For films, copyright protection lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the death occurs of the last to die of either the principal director, or the author of the screenplay, or the author of the dialogue or the composer of the score.

For broadcasts, copyright protection lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made.

For typographical arrangements, copyright protection lasts for 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.

Who is the owner of copyright works?

For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, the owner of the copyright is usually the author or creator.

For sound recordings, the owner of the copyright will be the music producer, for films the owner will be the producer and principal director, and for broadcasts the owner will be the broadcaster.

However, when works are created during the course of employment, the employer will be the first owner of the copyright (subject to any agreement to the contrary).

For works that have been commissioned, such as designs created by a graphic designer, unless agreed in writing in the contract between the parties, the first owner of the commissioned works will be the person or organisation that created the work and not the party commissioning the work.

For works that have collaboratively been created by two or more people, they will be joint owners of the works if each person’s contributions are not distinct. If each person’s contribution is distinguishable, then separate copyright protection will arise for the constituent parts of the composite work as joint copyright owners.

Do I need to us the © symbol?

You may see the © symbol used with a person’s name and the year.  You can use the © symbol on your work, as it allows you to mark your work and the year it was created, however, if the © is not used then your work still is protected by copyright.

What is copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement includes copying the work, issuing copies of the work to the public, renting/lending the work to the public, performing/playing/showing the work in public, communicating the work to the public and making an adaption of the work, to the whole or a substantial part without the licence of the copyright owner.

Copyright is also infringed by importing infringing copies or possessing/dealing with infringing copies. Copyright can also be infringed by providing means for making infringing copies (such as someone providing equipment or the means to allow the copying), but also extends to permitting the use of premises for infringing performance.

If someone has infringed copyrighted works, remedies including damages/compensation, an account of profits, injunctions to restrain a person from carrying out the infringing activities and delivery up/destruction of infringing copies may be available.

If you think you work has been copied or need advice on copyright please contact the Brand Protection team.

Related Articles

Trade Names and Passing Off


A trading name or business name is the name used by either a person, partnership or a company for carrying on business which is not the same as their own name.

View More News

Get in touch

Senate House, 62–70 Bath Road,
Slough, Berkshire, SL1 3SR

We use cookies to give you the best experience on our website.