The law of copyright is complex; this Quick Guide explains some of the issues you need to understand to protect your business' original creative works.

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What is copyright?

Copyright is a protection for authors and creators of tangible creative works including:

  • literary works (like novels, song lyrics, plays, newspapers and computer programs)

  • artistic works (like drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs)

  • musical compositions, sound recordings, films and broadcasts

  • databases

  • maps, architectural designs and technical drawings

How does copyright arise?

Copyright arises automatically. There is no need to register it and there is no process for official registration.

As soon as an idea is written down or recorded in some other tangible form, copyright protection applies automatically without any need to register it.

Who owns copyright?

Usually the owner is the author or creator of the work, or the person who made the arrangements for, say, a sound recording or a film to be made. 

An important exception to this is that copyright in any works made by employees will be owned by the employer, unless something else is agreed in the employment contract.

What does copyright do?

Copyright stops others from copying or adapting your works, or making them available to others, without your permission.

If an identical work is created independently by someone else it can be used provided it was not copied from yours. There are limited exceptions when others can copy your work (eg for research purposes or a review).

How long does copyright last?  

Copyright lasts 70 years after the death of the author of artistic, musical, dramatic and literary works.

In the case of sound recordings and broadcasts, the copyright lasts for 50 years from the date it was made.

In the case of films, the copyright lasts for 70 years after the death of the last to die out of the film’s director, screenwriter, dialogue author and composer.

How can I protect my copyright?

Whilst there is no official registration, you should take steps to protect your copyright by providing evidence that you had the work at a particular time, for example by depositing a copy with a bank or a solicitor.

A number of private companies operate unofficial registers, but check exactly what you are getting for your money before going down this route.

When you publish copyright material (either in paper form or on-line) mark it with the international copyright symbol © followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year of creation.  This is the language you will always see on the front pages of a copyright book.

When you share your valuable confidential information, including copyright, with another business, you can consider using an appropriate confidentiality agreement (also known as a non-disclosure agreement or NDA). You can use Rocket Lawyer’s simple interview process to create either a Two-way NDA or One-way confidentiality agreement, depending on whether one or both parties are sharing confidential information.

Make sure your agreements with independent consultants have the necessary provisions relating to IP created in the course of working for you.

If a party breaches your copyright, consider issuing a Cease and desist letter to protect your intellectual property.

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