Copyright in sound recordings and films

Sound recordings and films created on or after 1 August 1989 are protected by copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provided that certain criteria are met, which include a requirement that the work be original (copies of sound recordings and films are not protected by copyright).

Sound recordings and films created before 1 August 1989 may be protected by copyright under earlier legislation.

What is a sound recording?

A “sound recording” is a recording of sounds, from which the sounds may be reproduced or a recording of the whole or any part of a literary, dramatic or musical work, from which sounds reproducing the work or part of the work may be produced.

The medium on which the recording is made and the method by which the sounds are produced or reproduced is irrelevant.

What is a film?

A “film” is defined as being a recording on any medium from which a moving image may by any means be produced.

A film soundtrack will be protected by copyright as a film when it accompanies the film and will be protected by copyright as a sound recording in all other situations.

How long does copyright last in relation to sound recordings?

As a general rule copyright in relation to sound recordings expires:

  • at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made; or

  • if during that period the recording is published, 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first published; or

  • if during that period the recording is not published but is made available to the public by being played in public or communicated in some other manner to the pubic, 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public.

However, if the work has only become available to the public as a result of an unauthorised act such act will not be taken into account for the purposes of determining the duration of the copyright.

There is an exception to this general rule in relation to sound recordings created by non EEA nationals.

How long does copyright last in relation to films?

As a general rule copyright in relation to films expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the last of the following persons die:

  • the principal director;

  • the author of the screenplay;

  • the author of the dialogue;

  • the composer of music specially created for and used in the film.

There are some exceptions to this general rule where the identity of one or more of the above persons is not known, where films are created outside of the EEA by non EEA nationals and where there is no principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue or composer of music specially created for and used in the film.