Copyright, in its simplest form, is exactly that – the right to copy. To the owner of the copyright, this includes the right to stop someone from copying his or her work.

About Copyright

So when we say ‘work’, what does that mean? In the UK, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 identifies the categories of work that can be protected by copyright. They are:

  • Literary works
  • Dramatic works
  • Musical works
  • Artistic works
  • Sound recordings
  • Films
  • Broadcasts
  • The layout/format of newspapers, magazines etc.

Clearly, it makes sense for those in the entertainment industry to understand copyright – it is the right of an author, artist, composer or director to prevent someone else making illegal copies of his or her original work.

How Do You Acquire Copyright?

A common question is ‘How do you copyright something?’ Fortunately (at least in the UK) it isn’t hard. Copyright exists in a piece of work from the moment it is put into material form (i.e. written down or recorded in some way) and it doesn’t need to be registered or published anywhere. Usually, the person who creates the work is the owner of the copyright – the author of a book, the songwriter or producer, or director of a film – although there are exceptions to this (such as sound recordings, which belong to the person who made the arrangements necessary for the recordings to be made, commissioned works which belong to the commissioner and works made during the course of employment).

In addition, there is no requirement that the work be any good or have any strong artistic value! As long as it is original, has involved some skill and labour, and is recorded in some way, it will be protected by copyright.

To qualify for protection in the UK, the creator must also be a ‘qualifying person’, which basically means a resident of the UK or one of the countries who signed the Berne Convention or the Universal Copyright Convention.

What is protected?

As the owner of the copyright, you have the right to do certain things that other people can’t without your permission. There are several restricted acts depending on the category of work, although in most cases these are things such as making copies of the work (manufacturing CDs, DVDs or reprints, or making digital copies) and the right to perform or exhibit the work in public.

What is not protected?

An important point to make is that copyright protects the work itself, not the idea behind the work. Nothing can stop someone from making a movie based on the same idea as the Harry Potter movies, as long as their movie doesn’t use the same expressions of that idea (e.g. the same dialogue or music). An interesting case on this point is Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh v. The Random House Group Limited [2006] EWHC 719, regarding the novel Da Vinci Code.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright lasts for several years, but exactly how long depends on the type of work. For most things, it is the life of the author plus 70 years. The duration for copyright protection of a sound recording was increased from 50 to 70 years (from the end of the year it was made).

In September 2011, The European Union approved a Directive which extended the period of copyright in sound recordings, this Directive was implemented on 1st November 2013.

What are the exceptions?

In certain circumstances, you may be allowed to do the restricted acts, even if you don’t own the copyright. These are called exceptions to copyright. The most common of these would be when having a licence to do so. A licence is simply permission from the owner of the copyright to do something with the work and they are very common in the entertainment industry.

Another exception is called ‘fair dealing’, which allows for the making of copies for certain things like research and private study, criticism, review and news reporting.

Copyright is a fairly complex subject, but artists should at least try to understand a little about the rights that belong to them as creators of their work. In such a competitive industry, knowledge is power!

For further information,  feel free to contact us directly.

*** This article is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied on instead of consultation with legal professionals. It is offered to educate, not provide specific legal advice.

Music, movie and entertainment lawyers and solicitors