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. In contrast the Courts have held that an arrangement of timetables obtained from a common source was not protected by copyright since there was insufficient skill and labour in preparing it. Normally titles will not attract copyright protection.

What is a dramatic work?

The term “dramatic work” is used to refer to work of action, with or without words or music, which is capable of being performed before an audience.

The following types of work fall within the definition of dramatic work:

  • plays;

  • dances (although other elements of a dance may be protected by other areas of copyright, for example any accompanying music may be protected as a musical work);

  • mimes.

For a dramatic work to benefit from copyright protection it must be recorded writing or in some other manner and there must have been sufficient skill and labour in creating the work so as to make it original.

What is a musical work?

The term “musical work” is used to describe work consisting of music. If the music is to be accompanied by words those words will be protected separately as a literary work.

For a musical work to benefit from copyright protection it must be recorded writing or in some other manner and there must have been sufficient skill and labour in creating the work so as to make it original. However, modern versions and arrangements of old music can be protected by copyright.