Copyright information

This section on copyright is intended to provide an overview to copyright in the UK and to answer many of the questions CLA receives from organisations and individuals. 


What is copyright?

Copyright is one of the main types of intellectual property - others include designs, patents and trademarks.  Intellectual property allows a person to own things they create in the same way as something physical can be owned. It is the right to prevent others copying or reproducing someone's work.

The main legislation dealing with copyright in the United Kingdom is the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988. 

When does copyright arise?

Copyright arises automatically when a work that qualifies for protection is created. The work must be original in that it needs to originate with the author who will have used some judgment or skill to create the work - simply copying a work does not make it original.   There is no need in the UK to register copyright.  When an idea is committed to paper or another fixed form, it can be protected by copyright.  It is the expression of the idea that is protected and not the idea itself.  People cannot be stopped from borrowing an idea or producing something similar but can be stopped from copying. 

What does copyright protect?

The main categories of works currently protected in the UK include:
  • original literary works such as novels or poems, tables or lists and computer programmes
  • original dramatic works such as dance or mime
  • original musical works, ie the musical notes themselves
  • original artistic works such as graphic works (paintings, drawings etc), photographs and sculptures
  • sound recordings
  • films
  • broadcasts
  • typographical arrangements (ie the layout or actual appearance) of published editions

Who owns copyright?

As a general rule, the owner of the copyright is the person who created it, i.e. the author.  An author could be the writer, the composer, the artist, the producer or the publisher or another creator depending on the type of work.

One important exception to this is when an employee creates a work in the course of their employment in which case the copyright owner will be the employer.

Joint ownership of copyright

Where more than one person is involved in the creation of a work and it is not possible to distinguish exactly what each contributed, copyright will be owned jointly and no single contributor can publish or license the work without the consent of the other/s.

What rights does a copyright owner have?

A copyright owner has both economic and moral rights. Economic rights cover acts that only the copyright owner can do or authorise.  These include the right to copy the work, distribute copies of it, rent or lend it, perform or show it, communicate it to the public (including making it available online) or adapt it (e.g. making it into a play).

Moral rights include the right to be identified as the author, the right not to have a work that they did not create falsely attributed to them and the right to object to the derogatory treatment of the work. Moral rights are rights authors retain in their works irrespective of who owns the economic rights - they can be waived, but not licensed or assigned.

How long does copyright last?

The duration of copyright varies according to the work involved.  For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works it is 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies (if there is more than one author it will be 70 years from the death of the last remaining author).

For typographical arrangements (i.e. layout or appearance of the printed article), the duration is 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first published with that layout/appearance.

It is important to note that whilst the underlying work itself might be out of copyright, if a new edition is set and printed or additional text such as an introduction is added these new elements will attract copyright protection.    

Copyright infringement

It is an infringement of copyright to do any of the following acts in relation to a substantial part of a work protected by copyright without the consent or authorisation of the copyright owner:
  • copy it
  • issue copies of it to the public
  • rent or lend it to the public
  • perform or show it in public
  • communicate it to the public
As mentioned above, for infringement to take place it must involve a substantial part of the work. Whether or not the part to be reproduced is substantial is subjective and the quality, importance or significance of the extract are equally as important (some may say more so) as the quantity of words or lines - using just four lines of a poem or even a four word extract have been found to be substantial.  The test is subjective. It is often said that if something is worth copying, it is worth protecting.

Secondary infringement may occur if someone, without the permission of the copyright owner, imports an infringing copy, possesses or deals with it or provides the means for making it.

Remedies for copyright infringement

There are a number of remedies a copyright owner can obtain in a civil action for infringement. These include seeking an injunction to prohibit further infringement, damages for loss, an account of the infringer's profit, an order requiring the infringer to deliver all infringing articles to the owner or the right to seize such copies.

There are certain acts conducted without a copyright owner's consent which may be classed as criminal offences and may result in fines and/or imprisonment.  A person commits an offence if he knew/had reason to believe they were conducting any of these acts or that their act would cause an infringement.

A company can be guilty of copyright infringement as can an officer of the company who consented or aided the infringement.

Copyright exceptions

There are a number of specified copyright exceptions in UK law which permit copying in certain circumstances (for instance for use in judicial proceedings) or for certain categories of people (for instance for those who are visually impaired).  More detailed information regarding these exceptions is beyond the scope of this overview but can be found in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 or on the UK Intellectual Property Office's website.

In addition to the specified exceptions, there exists a group of exemptions which fall within the scope of ‘fair dealing'.  Material reproduced for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study, for criticism or review or for the reporting of current events is included in this group.  If material is reproduced for these purposes, provided it is genuinely and fairly used for the stated purpose, and is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement, it may be considered fair dealing and thus exempt from clearance.  However, the test is subjective and will depend on the circumstances of each case.

Obtaining clearance to use copyright material

If the material you wish to reproduce does not fall within one of the exceptions, or if you are unsure, you should contact the copyright owner, or someone authorised by them to grant the necessary permission.  For most published works this will be the publisher, contact details for which will be found on the publication itself.  Permission will generally be needed for each and every occasion the material is used.  There are no industry-fixed fees (they are at the discretion of the party granting the permission).  In many cases, even when reproduction of the extract may not warrant a fee, merely an acknowledgment, there may be a minimum sum charged to cover administration.  Depending on the amount of material you wish to reproduce and the frequency copying is required, you may find it more beneficial to take out a licence from a licensing society such as the CLA.    

CLA and Copyright Licences

CLA is a licensing body as defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  It is authorised by artists, publishers and visual creators to issue collective licences which allow copying from books, journals and magazines (including certain electronic publications), within certain limits and subject to certain exclusions.  CLA issues blanket licences to organisations - the licences are issued on an annual basis subject to an annual fee which covers copying throughout that year (thus removing the need to seek permission every time you want to copy) and includes an indemnity from CLA for all copying done within the terms and conditions of the licence.  For more information on whether or not you need a CLA licence, please go to the section on the website entitled 'Do I need a licence?'.

Related organisations and links

For a listing of other organisations concerned with or related to copyright and the creative industries, please see the section of the website entitled Related organisations and links.    

It is hoped that the above provides a helpful overview to the law of copyright and the use of copyright material.  It is not intended to constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. 

Are the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
covered by CLA Licences?

Our standard terms make reference to granting licences within the UK, however CLA has issued licences to businesses, public sector and educational organisations in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man for over 10 years. We acknowledge that UK legislation pertaining to copyright in published materials that CLA quotes would not necessarily be directly applicable to the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

However, CLA is the appropriate Reproduction Rights Organisation (RRO) to issue licences as copyright legislation within the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man has historically been derived from UK law.

Moreover, CLA’s authority to issue licences is derived from its owners – the authors, artists and publishers who own or control the copyright, and so CLA can, by private contractual arrangement with users, legitimise or authorise the reuse of material which would otherwise represent an infringement of copyright under the relevant copyright regime.

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