A work can only be original if it is the result of independent creative effort. It will not be original if it has been copied from something that already exists. If it is similar to something that already exists but there has been no copying from the existing work either directly or indirectly, then it may be original.
The term "original" also involves a test of substantiality - literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works will not be original if there has not been sufficient skill and labour expended in their creation. But, sometimes significant investment of resources without significant intellectual input can still count as sufficient skill and labour.
Ultimately, only the courts can decide whether something is original.
There is much case law indicating, for example, that names and titles do not have sufficient substantiality to be original and that, where an existing work is widely known, it will be difficult to convince a court that there has been no copying if your work is very similar or identical.
Works that are not required to be original
Sound recordings, films and published editions do not have to be original but they will not be new copyright works if they have been copied from existing sound recordings, films and published editions.
Broadcasts do not have to be original, but there will be no copyright, if, or to the extent that, they infringe copyright in another broadcast.
Copyright applies to computing and the internet in the same way as material in other media. For example, any photographs you place on the internet will be protected in the same way as other artistic works; any original written work will be protected as a literary work, and so on.
Downloads and uploads
If you download, distribute or put material on the internet that belongs to others you should ensure that you have the owners permission, unless any of the exceptions apply.
Databases may receive copyright protection for the selection and arrangement of the contents. In addition, or instead, database right may exist in a database. This is an automatic right and protects databases against the unauthorised removal and re-use of the contents of the database.
Computer programs and games for games consoles are protected on the same basis as literary works.
Conversion of a program into or between computer languages and codes corresponds to adapting a work. Storing any work in a computer amounts to copying the work. In addition, running a computer program or displaying work on a video display unit (VDU) will usually involve copying and thus require the consent of the copyright owner.
Copyright applies to music when it is recorded, either by writing it down or in any other manner. With a song there will usually be more than one copyright associated with it. If you are the composer of the music you will be the author of the musical work and will have copyright in that music. The lyrics of a song are protected separately by copyright as a literary work. The person who writes the lyrics will own the copyright in the words.
If your work is subsequently recorded the sound recording will also have copyright protection. The producer of the recording will own the copyright in the sound recording.
Composers of music may also have moral rights in their work.
Copyright is like any form of physical property in that you can buy it, sell it, inherit or otherwise transfer it, wholly or in part. Therefore, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than you, the first owner.
Copyright exists in your original music composition or score for your life plus 70 years from the end of the year of your death. The same length of time applies for the lyrics, whereas the sound recording only lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 50 years from the end of the year of publication. If not published during that 50 year period, but it is played in public or communicated to the public during that period, then copyright will last for 50 years from when this happens.
Photographs, digital or on film, are protected by copyright as artistic works. The exact rules relating to copyright in photographs vary according to the law which was in place at the time the photograph was taken.
- Photographs taken before 1 January 1945
- Photographs taken on or after 1 January 1945 but before 1 August 1989
- Photographs taken after 1 August 1989
- Photographs taken before 1 January 1945
- Photographs taken between 1945 and 1996
- Photographs taken on or after 1 January 1996
If you wish to use or copy copyright protected photographs you may need the permission for the rights holder, unless copyright exceptions apply.
For TV productions and films, copyright may exist on a number of its components, for example, the original screenplay, the music score and so on. If you produced the TV show or film then you would normally obtain the rights to, or gain permission to use, the works required to make the production.
A recording of a broadcast does not infringe copyright if it is made in your own home to watch later. For any other use you may need the permission for the rights holder, unless copyright exceptions apply.
Broadcasts, which may be transmitted by cable or wireless means, including satellite broadcasts, but excluding most transmissions on the internet, afford copyright protection in addition to any copyright in the content of broadcasts such as films, music and literary material. Copyright in a broadcast expires after 50 years.
Copyright applies to original artistic works such as paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, photographs, diagrams, maps, works of architecture and works of artistic craftsmanship.
So, for example, cartoon characters may have copyright protection and if you wish to copy the characters onto cakes, wallpaper and so on, you will almost certainly need a licence to do this to avoid infringing copyright.
If you wish to use or copy copyright protected artistic works you may need the permission for the rights holder, unless copyright exceptions apply.
As for drawing of articles to be mass-produced, there will only be copyright in the article made to the design in the drawing if the article itself is an artistic work, including something that could be called a work of artistic craftsmanship.
However, design right protection might exist for such an industrially produced item even if there is no copyright and applying for a registered design is another possibility.
If you want to reproduce existing Royal emblems such as Coats of Arms on any souvenirs, you will need permission from the Lord Chamberlain's Office.
Duration and ownership
The creator of the work will be the author and first owner and copyright will last for life of the author plus 70 years.
Copyright is, however, a form of intellectual property which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. So, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner.
Copyright applies to original written work such as novels, newspaper articles, lyrics for songs, instruction manuals and so on. These are known as literary works. Copyright in a literary work lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.
There is no copyright in a name, title, slogan or phrase. But these may be eligible for registration as a trade mark, or a common-law action to prevent passing-off may give protection for unregistered trade marks. However, logos may be protected under copyright as artistic works and many trade marks may therefore also be copyright works.
Published editions of literary works such as magazines, anthologies of poems and so on, where there may be more than one copyright owner, may afford copyright protection in their own right for the typographical arrangement of the edition. Copyright in your typographical edition lasts for 25 years.
You may need to get permission from a copyright owner if you wish to copy written work in any way, for example, photocopying, reproducing a printed page by handwriting or typing or scanning into a computer; or rent or lend books and so on, to the public, unless any exceptions apply.
Copyright applies to any original live theatrical performance such as ballet, opera, plays, musicals, pantomimes and so on.
In ballet, for instance, if the choreography of the dance has been recorded in writing or filmed, the dramatic performance of the dance itself would be entitled to copyright. As would any musical scores used, scripts, stage directions, and even any artwork on the set design.
The performers of the play or ballet and so on could also afford protection as would any film or audio recording of the performance.
As with any other form of copyright work, if you wish to reproduce or perform a play or musical production, you should first seek permission from the copyright owners of any written work, music, recorded dance steps and so on.
Theatrical performances within schools
Within schools, if the performance or concert is only being watched by teachers and pupils as part of the activities of the school then you do not need permission from the copyright owner(s). This falls within the scope of one of the exceptions copyright.
However, if parents are invited to watch the performance or concert, then you probably will need permission, unless you use only old material in which copyright has expired, such as Shakespeare's plays or Mozart's music.
There is no copyright in speech unless and until it is recorded. If your speech is recorded, either in writing or by other means such as by electronic means, then the words of your speech will be protected as a literary work. Copyright protection would then last for life of the author plus 70 years.
If you perform a dramatic work, such as a play, or record your performance on an audio cassette or CD you may also be entitled to performer's rights.
About the information given on this web site
Please note. The intention of this web site is to make available wide-ranging copyright information while offering basic copyright education to our visitors. Many of your questions and queries on the subject of copyright may be answered within this web site or through the recommended links and resources provided on our links page.The information contained within this site is offered as a consideration to visitors and at no time should the information be construed as legal advice; for all legal matters, we encourage our visitors to seek the assistance of an attorney.
Copyright Law, Treaties and Advice 2007 All rights reserved