Copyright: An introduction

A definition of copyright

Copyright is an intellectual property right and is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and exists to provide the creators of various different kinds of work rights to control the ways in which their material may be used and prevent copyright infringement.  The Copyright Licensing Agency deals with the licensing of copyright material in the UK. 

What different kinds of work can be the subject of copyright?

Copyright provides the creators of the following kinds of work the right to control the way their work may be used:

Literary material

  •  Articles
  •  Books
  •  Song lyrics
  • Poems
  • Newsletters
  • Leaflets
  • Computer programs etc

Dramatic material

  • Dance
  • Plays

Musical works

  • Recordings and score

Artistic works

  • Architecture
  • Drawings
  • Maps
  • Logos,
  • Photography
  • Paintings
  • Sculptures

Sound recordings

  • Often recordings of other copyright works, for example literary or musical


  • Films

Typographical arrangements of published editions

  • Magazines
  • Periodicals
  • Journals

Do I have to register my work?

Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or a company creates a work meaning there is no requirement for the work to be registered. Once produced the work is automatically protected by copyright.

Will any work which I produce be protected by copyright?

To qualify for copyright protection the work would need to be regarded as original and to exhibit a certain degree of labour skill or judgement.

A common misconception when dealing with copyright is the notion of protecting the idea behind a work. It is only the work which will be protected by the laws of copyright not the idea. For example if you wrote a book or a play the actual content which you had written would be protecting but not the idea or theme behind the book. This would mean that another person would be entitled to write another book or play concerning the same theme of the book and would only amount to copyright infringement if they copied or adapted substantial sections of your work.

Often such things as names, titles and short phrases – i.e. catch phrases are not afforded protection under the laws of copyright with the possibility to register them as a trade mark a better option.

Will I own the copyright in work which I have produced?

Most of the time the author or the person who has produced the work will be exclusive owner of all copyright in that work.  There are, however, certain exceptions to this rule:

    If a work is produced as part of employment then it is likely that the owner of the work will be the employer Work which is done on a freelance basis or which has been commissioned will usually be owned by the author or creator unless it has been stipulated to the contrary by a contractual provision or something of a similar nature When another’s work has been used, for example a sample from another track used in a musical track will still remain the property of the creator of the original track.

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For more information on:

  • Duration of copyright  
  • Literary, dramatic, musical, artistic works
  • What happens is the author is unknown?
  • Sound Recordings and Broadcast
  • Films
  • What happens if the author, director or composer is unknown?
  • Broadcasts