Protecting your copyright

Copyright is a legal right that is granted automatically to the creators of certain types of original work. These types of work include literary works such as novels, training manuals and song lyrics, computer programs, musical works such as an original score, dramatic works such as a ballet or play, and a recording or broadcast of an original work, including films on DVD.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea, but does not protect the idea itself. For example, it protects the words in a book, but not the plot. It may be possible to protect the underlying ideas in other ways, including patents and design registration. The owner of copyright in a work can control how their material is used. As copyright arises automatically as soon as an original work is created, the creator does not need to fill in any forms or pay any fees for copyright protection. 

What is copyright?

Copyright is a legal right that enables the creators of certain original works to control how their work is used and to receive financial reward from others using their work. Without this legal right, it would be easy for anyone to use and benefit from original works without paying or compensating the creator. Actions that a copyright holder can prevent include copying, adapting, issuing, renting and lending copies to the public, performing in public and broadcasting their work.

Copyright holders must decide how to exploit their work and how to enforce their copyright. It may be of benefit to the copyright owner to sell or transfer their copyright. Copyright does not last forever. For literary works, films, dramatic, musical or artistic works, copyright protection ends 70 years after the death of the creator.

For sound recordings and broadcasts, copyright protection ends 50 years after the creation of the work. The copyright in an original work arises as soon as the original work is recorded, in writing or otherwise, and belongs to the creator unless the work is created by an employee in the course of their employment. Where work is created during employment, the employer is normally the first owner of the copyright and the economic rights, unless an agreement has been made between the employee and employer indicating otherwise. When work is created by a ..../continued

Useful contacts

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is a government body responsible for operating the intellectual property system in the UK. It grants patents, trade marks and design rights, and supports the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

Tel: 0300 300 2000

PRS for Music collects royalties on behalf of songwriters, composers and music publishers.

Tel: (020) 7580 5544

PPL is a membership organisation that collects royalties on behalf of music performers and recording rights owners.

Tel: (020) 7534 1000

The Music Publishers Association (MPA) is a membership organisation representing music publishers in the UK. It publishes information about musical copyright and runs training courses and events.

Tel: (020) 3741 3800

Download our full guide to Copyright below.