Copyright in Sound Recordings and Films

Sound recordings and films created since 1 August 1989 have copyright protection. Provided the work is original and that certain further criteria are met, the work is protected under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copies of sound recordings and films are not protected by copyright.

Sound recordings and films created before 1 August 1989 may have copyright protection under earlier legislation.

Sound recordings

What is a sound recording?

A sound recording for the purposes of the 1989 Act is a recording of sounds, from which the sounds may be reproduced; or a recording of the whole or part of a literary, dramatic or musical work, from which sounds reproducing the work (or part of it) may be produced.

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

How long does copyright last?

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, 70 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 it is made available to the public by being played in public, or communicated in another way to the pubic – 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public
  • in the case of co-written musical works, 70 years after the death of the last surviving author, whether that is the author of the lyrics or the composer of the music

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

Note that more complex rules apply in relation to sound recordings created by non-EEA nationals.

Films

What is a film?

A film for the purposes of the 1989 Act is a recording on any medium from which a moving image is produced, by any means. A film soundtrack will be protected by copyright as a film when it accompanies the film. In other situations, it will be protected by copyright as a sound recording, so long as it is original.

How long does copyright last?

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 individuals die:

  • the principal director
  • the author of the screenplay
  • the author of the dialogue, or
  • the composer of music specially created for and used in the film

As with sound recordings, there are more complex rules in the case of films created outside of the EEA by non-EEA nationals.

There are also exceptions where the identity of one or more of the above people are not known, 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. Where there are none of the above specified people, copyright expires 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the film was made.

Where there is any uncertainty, specialist legal advice should be taken.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A former solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.