The UK boasts one of the world’s strongest creative sectors with a wide range of creative industries such as literature, music and film, theatre, ballet, art and sculpture. Anyone who has created an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, sound recording, film, broadcast, or typographical arrangement may be entitled to protection under UK copyright law.
When a work is protected by copyright
A literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work must be original in order to qualify for copyright protection. To be original, the author must have created the work as a result of their own skill, judgement and individual effort. Copyright does not exist in literary, dramatic or musical works unless and until the work is recorded or documented in some way i.e. in writing or some other tangible form.
If your work fulfils these criteria, copyright protection arises as soon as your work is created. There is no legal requirement to register your work for it be protected in this way. The general rule is that the first owner of copyright is the author. There are exceptions to this rule which this note does not address.
It is wise to consider if you should speak with our team to see whether any additional steps should be taken to ensure the copyright in the work belongs to you or whether you need to
reach an agreement with a joint creator of the work. Copyright infringement actions can be very expensive and you should take the necessary steps to minimise the risk of court action.
How UK creative copyright law protects different works
This depends on the type of work, for example:
Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works – Protection lasts for 70 years from end of the calendar year in which the author dies. For works of joint authorship or co-authorship, it is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last known author dies.
Sound recordings – Protection lasts for:
- 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made; or
- If, during that period, the recording is published, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first published; or
- If, during that period, the recording is not published but is played or communicated in public, 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first so made available.
Films – Protection lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the death of the last to die of the specified persons occurs. Where the identity of one or more of the specified persons is unknown, the 70-year period runs from the end of the calendar year in which the last known of the specified persons dies.
Broadcasts – As with sound recordings protection lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast was made.
Typographical arrangement of published editions – Protection lasts for 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.
Computer generated literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works – Protection lasts for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made.
When things can go wrong
The law on copyright is not straightforward. If you are in the creative industries, whether a composer, singer, artist or filmmaker, you should think about how robust your existing rights are, otherwise your livelihood could be at risk.
For example, copyright in work commissioned by a third party (commissioner), will not automatically belong to the commissioner, even though the commissioner has paid for the work to be done. It will in fact automatically vest with the contractor who produced the work. It is therefore essential to deal with the position on copyright up front in order to avoid potential problems later, ideally by arranging for a document that records the extent to which all present and future rights in any work are transferred from the contractor to the commissioner.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.