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Copyright, Licensing and GDPR: A General Introduction to Copyright

Copyright Infringement

The CDPA 1988 gives the copyright owners the exclusive right to their works, which includes the right to:

  • copy the work;
  • issue copies of the work to the public;
  • perform, show or play the work in public;
  • broadcast the work;
  • make an adaptation of the work.

Anyone else performing these acts without specific permission of the copyright owner is infringing copyright and may be sued for damages if a court rules that a "substantial part" is involved which might adversely affect the rights holder by, for example, leading to loss of income. "Substantial" may refer to quality as well as quantity; for example, a short musical phrase may be considered substantial if it is the key theme of the whole work. In cases of deliberate infringement for profit (for example, producing “pirate” copies) those infringing may be criminally liable and subject to punitive damages or imprisonment.

"Copying" means reproducing the work in any material form, including storing works in electronic format so, for example, includes scanning as well as photocopying, or downloading from a website.

Definition of copyright

"Copyright" is a term used to define the legal property right subsisting in various works which result from the intellect of the creator. The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 was introduced to give legal protection to the creators of such works in order to prevent exploitation by others and to ensure creators’ moral rights. Copyright may be sold or given away by the author (hence the copyright owner of a book can often be the publisher).

Moral rights are separate from the rights governing economic exploitation, but are equally important. These belong to the creator of the work and provide them with the right to be identified as such (i.e. the right to be acknowledged through referencing) and with the right of integrity (i.e. not to be misrepresented, for example, through misquotation or adaptation).

No formal procedures are required in the UK for copyright protection to apply. This is automatic, provided that:

  • the work is recorded in writing or some other material form. There is no copyright in ideas;
  • there is some originality in the work;
  • the work has been produced by a qualified person or body, generally a British subject or corporation, or the work was first published in the UK. However, most foreign material is protected by international treaties.

Copyright Durations

Different time limits apply to copyright in different formats. The most common are listed below.

Copyright in a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

If the work is of unknown authorship, copyright expires at the end of a period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public.

Computer generated works and films are protected for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were first released.

Sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were first released.

Works protected by Copyright

Copyright protects:

  1. original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. This includes computer programs and databases; tables and compilations; photographs and drawings; and the more obvious instances of books and journals. These works do not have to be published in printed form; electronic materials, e.g. Web pages, are also protected.
  2. sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes, including video recordings.
  3. typographical arrangements of published editions.

Copyright does not protect an idea, it only protects the material form in which that idea is expressed. There is no copyright in an idea until it has been recorded, e.g. in written form.

For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works the material must be original. Original means that the material needs to originate from the author, rather than being copied from another piece of work. Some element of independent skill or labour is required, but that element need not be great.

Permitted Copying

Certain exceptions permit copying a copyright work if all the conditions of that exception are satisfied. Generally, selling or hiring a copy made under these exceptions invalidates the protection.