Commercial Law Experts Answer: “What Is Copyright?”

Else Solicitors’ commercial law department, based in Burton on Trent , have answered all the frequently asked questions that surround copyright law.


What Is Copyright?

One of the most common questions asked of our business solicitors is “What does copyright mean?”.

Copyright is a type of intellectual property. It is the method of protecting original recorded materials. This includes created-works like words, images, music, dance, and software.

It gives the owner / author of the works the sole right to use, reproduce, or license others to use, the work.

What Is Intellectual Property?

An idea is not intellectual property, it has to be physically realised. For example, an idea for a song is not intellectual property until you have written the words and the tune.

Intellectual property is a right over something unique that you have physically created. These rights exist, with or without registration, in written works, inventions, names, trade marks, designs, and confidential information.

Intellectual property can be a major asset to both individuals and businesses. It is fundamental for you to place a value on your intellectual property assets, as this enables you to protect them.

How Long Does Copyright Last?

Copyright begins as soon as something unique has been created. The length of time it lasts for can depend on how long ago the work was created.

As a general rule of thumb, the government has released rough guidelines on how long copyright lasts for different types of creative works.

Type Of Work How Long Copyright Usually Lasts
Written, Dramatic, Musical & Artistic Work 70 Years After Author’s Death
Sound & Music Recording 70 Years From First Published
Films 70 Years After The Death Of The Director, Screenplay Author & Composer
Broadcasts 50 Years From First Broadcast
Layout Of Published Editions Of Written, Dramatic Or Musical Works 25 Years From First Published

Who Owns Copyright?

In most cases the creator or author of literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works, is the first owner of the copyright.

However, if an employee created one of the aforementioned works as part of their employment then the copyright is owned by the employer unless another arrangement has been agreed.

When a person is commissioned to create a works they retain ownership of the copyright unless an agreement is reached that assigns copyright to the commissioner.

If two or more people author a work together, the work is considered to be jointly and equally owned by its creators. However, if the creators have made ‘distinct’ individual contributions then the copyright of that part of the work is deemed to be solely owned by its creator.

Ownership of copyright can be transferred or licensed.

How Do I License My Copyright?

The owner of work protected by copyright can license it to be used by other people. This is done through a contractual agreement. Sale of copyright happens in the same way.

Through a license, the owner of the copyright can grant the license user the right to use the work in a variety of specific commercial ways.

What Happens If You Break Copyright Law?

Infringement of copyright law can lead to a civil law suit and may also constitute a criminal offence.

At Else Solicitors, we would advise everybody to protect the works they have created and invested their time in.

If you would like to discuss a matter relating to intellectual property or copyright law please contact us via 01283 526200 or email info@elselaw.co.uk.

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