Copyright in literary, dramatic and musical works

Literary, dramatic and musical works are protected by copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

What is a literary work?

The term “literary work” covers work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung. The following types of work fall within the definition of literary work:

  • tables;

  • compilations (for example, dictionaries, directories, maps, road books and lists, although an individual map will be protected as an artistic work);

  • computer programs and preparatory designs for computer programmes (including source code although it is not currently clear whether programming languages are protected);

  • databases;

  • letters;

  • notes (for example headnotes to law reports).

For a literary work to benefit from copyright protection it must be expressed in print or writing or recorded in some other manner, for example on a tape recording.

There must also have been sufficient skill and labour in creating the work so as to make it original and useful. The Courts have previously held that a list of tours for travellers was protected by copyright since it would be of value to the travelling public.

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For more information on:

  • What is a dramatic work?
  • What is a musical work?