1. What is copyright?

Copyright is a property right, and provides owners with certain exclusive rights. These include the right to control the way content may be used, such as permitting others to copy, reproduce, communicate to the public or adapt the content. Copyright provides the framework and underlying legal basis of the publishing industry.

2. What does copyright cover?

Copyright protects a wide range of content, including books, articles, magazines, photographs, illustrations, graphs, databases, films, and music. As stated above these FAQs focus largely on the written word and the specifics of copyright as applied to book, magazine and journal publishing.

3. What is copyright for?

Copyright legally protects content on behalf of its creators, and means that individuals or companies must usually obtain permission to use content they don’t own.

4. Who owns it?

The first owner of copyright is usually the person who created the work. If work has been commissioned, the contract for the commission should clearly identify the copyright owner. An exception is when content is created by an employee in the course of their employment, in which case copyright is owned by the employer.

5. Can there be more than one owner of copyright?

Yes. There is no limit to the number of people who may jointly own copyright. This can have consequences for those seeking to reuse content, as permission must be granted by all copyright owners. It also affects the length of copyright in the content, as explained in 9 below.

6. How is ownership of copyright transferred?

Copyright can be transferred in whole or in part. For example, owners might choose to transfer rights to publish content in one or more other countries, for a specified use or for a certain length of time. Such a transfer could be by way of an assignment or an exclusive licence, both of which must be in writing and signed at least by the transferring party. In an assignment, the copyright owner transfers its ownership rights, and has no further control over how that new owner uses those rights. An exclusive licence gives the licensee complete control over how the content may be used but does not give them full ownership. It is also possible to assign rights in content not yet created. See below for more about licences.

7. How is copyright created?

Copyright protection is automatically generated when content is created and recorded in some form. Copyright doesn’t protect ideas, but protects the expression of those ideas when they are recorded, whether in paper form or digitally.

8. Does it need to be registered?

Not in the UK. No application, registration or fee is required to get obtain copyright protection, and there is no register or repository of copyright.

9. How long does copyright last?

The general rule in the UK is that copyright usually endures for the life of its creator, plus another 70 years from the end of the year of his or her death. If there is more than one creator, the life plus 70-year term applies to its longest living creator. Copyright in the arrangement of a published edition expires at the end of 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published. Other rules apply for photographs and content which is computer-generated. The rules may be different in other countries.

10. How can you tell if something is protected by copyright?

If the author of the content is still alive or died less than 70 years ago, then it is likely copyright protects the content. Subsistence of copyright and the identity of the owner is sometimes indicated by the © symbol. However, this is not required by law. Remember that different types of copyright may exist in the different elements of the same content, such as the text and images in a magazine.

11. What are moral rights?

Copyright is about more than the economic value of content. The rights to content and its exploitation may matter a great deal to the person who has created it. Moral rights recognise the importance of being identified as the creator and preserving the integrity of the creator and the work. Moral rights cannot be sold or transferred. They generally endure for the same period as copyright.

12. Is copyright an international or domestic law?

Copyright laws vary around the world. There are international treaties, such as the Berne Convention, which provide the basic copyright framework for the large number of countries that are signatories. The UK is a signatory and its own copyright law is set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The Act has been amended and updated a number of times since 1988. These FAQs refer to copyright law as it applies in the UK.

13. How is copyright law infringed?

Copyright is infringed when a person does one of the acts restricted by copyright law without the consent of the owner or controller of the content. The restricted acts include copying, distributing, lending and adapting all or a substantial part of content. This is not an exhaustive list of infringements, which are set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. There are various remedies for infringement.