What is Copyright and Who Owns it?

The law governing copyright in the UK is the Copyright, Design and Patents Act (CDPA) (1988) and amendments. It exists to protect the intellectual standing and economic rights of creators and publishers of all literary, dramatic, artistic, musical, audiovisual and electronic works. As long as the work is original, copyright protection is automatic. In the UK where there is no registration or other procedures to follow, copyright exists whether or not it is asserted using the © symbol or otherwise. The copyright symbol (©) was established by the Universal Copyright Convention in 1952 and when used signifies that the work is copyright protected.

In the first instance copyright ownership rests with the author or creator of a literary, musical or artistic work. However if the work was undertaken in the course of employment the employer will probably own the copyright unless there is a contract to specify otherwise.

Copyright is unusual in that it can be assigned or sold to another person or organisation: frequently an author may assign some or all of his/her copyrights to a publisher. Therefore when seeking to identify the copyright owner the most likely parties to consider are:

  • creator/author
  • employer
  • person who undertakes the arrangements (commissions the work)
  • the producer
  • the publisher

Copyright owners have exclusive rights to their work which include the right:

  • to copy work
  • to issue copies of the work to the public
  • to perform, show or play the work in public
  • to broadcast the work or include it in a cable programme service
  • to adapt the work or do any of the above in relation to the adaptation. 

Therefore anybody doing any of the above without permission or licence is infringing copyright.

Page last modified 02 July 2013.

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