The Art Of Copyright In The United Kingdom

Copyright is best described as a set of exclusive rights in relation to a cultural creation. Everything that is created is copyright, from the very moment it exists, and infringement happens more than people realise ...

Copyright has a global significance, but by its very nature, it is territorial. The exclusive rights that it grants are limited to particular countries or regions. In this blog post, we're looking at copyright in the United Kingdom.

"Originally, it was a registered right!"

This was just like a trademark or registered name, but in the early 20th Century, it became an unregistered right, which means that copyright protection in the UK is automatic the moment something is created.


- protection arises without the need to comply with formalities, registration or notice
- this makes it easier and less expensive to acquire/maintain copyright protection

The UK are party to the Berne Convention. Much of the Berne Convention is mirrored into the UK's legislation via the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. It covers and protects an array of works, including:

- Literary
- Dramatic
- Musical
- Artistic works
- Films
- Sound recordings
- Broadcasts
- Typographical arrangements of published editions

This means the UK has a more interpretive approach for things that do not fit neatly into single categories. An example would be video games which fit into more categories than just artistic works.

For literary, artistic, dramatic and musical works, once you establish that they are within the category, you must then prove that the works are original. However, for films, sound recordings, broadcasts and typographical arrangements, there is no requirement of originality.

To have your work protected by UK copyright law, the person creating the work must be a British citizen, an individual resident in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, Gibraltar or other Crown Dependency. Companies claiming copyright must also be registered here.

"Copyright only applies after something has been created!"

It's not good enough to simply come up with an idea and believe that it is automatically copyrighted. Imagine trying to prove ownership of an idea in court? No, the copyright is automatic once something has been created, so thinking of a book plot is not protected, publishing the actual finished book is.

It is also good practice to keep records and evidence of anything you create. Dated drawings, doodles, earlier revisions and recordings all make for good evidence should you need to prove ownership of a work in court. It is also recommended that anything you publish has a copyright symbol on it, followed by the year it was created and the name of the copyright holder written after that.

"How will Brexit affect copyright?"

There is limited harmonisation around copyright in the European Union so the scope of protections for UK work abroad will generally stay the same. Any works created so far will be covered by the EU law baked into the EU Withdrawal Act and won't change until UK law diverges in future.

Copyright law in the United Kingdom is flexible and thorough once you have published your work. Whether it is art, music, a book, a film or even a computer programme, the UK legal system will protect you if you can prove ownership of the work is yours!

But infringement of copyright happens more than people think and our next blog post will talk about why that is, and what you can do about it when you discover it.