Legal Advice · 19 November 2021

Copyright Lawyers And Finding A Good One In The UK

Copyright lawyers and finding a good one in the UK

Copyright is a legal tool that helps authors and creators protect their rights regarding the use or commercial exploitation of the specific works that have been identified as their creation. Copyright lawyers help you fight breaches of copyright and intellectual property rights. We explain copyright law and how to find a good copyright and intellectual property lawyer in the UK.

What rights do you have from copyright law?

Copyright law gives the author or creator of works the rights to:

  • Make copies of the works
  • Issue copies of the works
  • Rent out the works
  • Lend the works to individuals or organisations without losing copyrights or ownership
  • Personally perform or allow the performance of the works by others
  • Display the works or allow the displaying of the works by others
  • Communicate the work to the public in any form without making giving ownership to the public
  • Adapt the work and maintain copyrights to all versions
  • Stop others from doing any of the above without the formal consent from the copyright owner in a recognised legal format
Copyright can be a swamp of complexity and is not something to be tackled by an inexperienced lawyer or a private citizen. There are vast differences in territorial rights from country to country, and these are recognised globally through a series of established complex international treaties. Even within continent boundaries, such as in Europe, there is very limited cross-border compatibility with the legislation. It is, therefore, in your best interest to always seek professional, experienced, specialised legal advice when going down the copyright protection path.

What is the wider definition of copyright law?

Copyright law is also referred to as intellectual property rights law. These laws stop non-authors or non-creators from copying or profiting from the works of creators such as artists, writers, designers, software engineers, website developers and composers – the right holders.

The law gives the right holders diverse rights, including the right to royalties and the power to restrict the reproduction of the work by others.

To be specific, copyright law gives the right holder the ability to stop the reproduction of a ‘substantial’ part of the protected work.

How does the law define ‘substantial’?  The testing of the term has to be satisfied on a ‘qualitative’ basis.

What does ‘reproduction’ mean? Under this term, the law includes the reproduction of the protected in any material form such as:

  • Printing
  • Showing, performing or presenting the work in:
    • TV programmes
    • Films
    • Publications
  • Distributing images, videos or replicas of the work on the internet
  • Making a copy of the work, whether it is in 2D or 3D form
For a work to qualify for the protection of copyright law, the work has to be deemed the first of its kind, i.e. an ‘original’. It should clearly exhibit the author or creator’s “own intellectual creation”.

Is intellectual property law different?

Intellectual property (or “IP”) law is a legal tool that addresses issues relating to non-tangible (non-physical) property rights. This definition includes works such as:

  • Literature
  • Songs
  • Lyrics
  • Music
  • Performance art
  • Other art forms
  • Research data of a scientific nature
  • Original inventions and the blueprints thereof (physical or non-physical inventions)
  • Other designs.
  • Trade secrets, e.g. a recipe

Who owns the copyright title?

Usually, the owner of the copyright is the direct author or creator of a work. When two people or a team of people have created a work or invention, there is usually joint ownership of the copyright and may be subject to a pre-invention contract. If individual contributions can be identified, then copyright ownership might be allocated according to the contribution percentages.

Of course, we all know there are teams of creatives designing moon rovers, new sauces and new software. The copyright protection of such works, commissioned by an employer to an employee, is usually assigned to the employer as the first rights holder. This is not a pre-defined understanding by law. It is governed by:

  • The terms of the employment contract
  • The assessment of whether the work:
    • is within the parameters of the commissioned work as defined in work briefs and supporting documentation,
    • is or was commenced and completed during the course of a binding employment contract.
Deviations from the above two points will need additional contracts or, post creation, assessment by a copyright lawyer. The earlier the better, because a launched work, product or service that has earned millions will be a harder issue to resolve.

What works can be protected by copyright law?

The range of works that can be protected is diverse and large, but here are some category examples, in front of which the word ‘original’ applies:

  • Literature
  • Drama productions
  • Music (vocal and non-vocal)
  • Artistic works generally, irrespective of artistic quality:
    • graphic design,
    • photography,
    • sculpture or collage,
    • architecture (building, drawing or a model), or
    • artistic craftsmanship.
  • Computer programs and software code, including those created by A.I.
  • The data within databases
  • Audio recordings, films (digital, celluloid or other)
  • Broadcasts
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions

How long does copyright protection last?

There is no single answer to this question as the copyright protection period of duration is subject to the type of work being protected.

As an example:

  • Works of literature, music or artistic creations are copyright protected for the lifetime of the rights holder plus an additional seventy years posthumously.
  • If the work was computer-generated, then the seventy years drops down to fifty years.
  • Audio-visual works, such as broadcasts, have a copyright protection period of fifty years (from broadcast date).
  • Sound recordings also enjoy a fifty-year protection period that runs from the end of the year of publication.
  • Film recordings have a longer protection period, viz seventy years, following the death of the last of these rights holders:
    • The principal director
    • The screenplay author
    • The dialogue/script author
    • The composer of the original film soundtrack
  • Typographical creations only have twenty-five years of copyright protection. This runs from the end of its first publication year.

Are copyrights supposed to be registered?

As mentioned earlier, there are different rules in different countries, but copyright comes into effect automatically here in the UK. As soon as an ‘original’ work is created, there is no need for registration.

Note: Ideas are NOT protected by copyright. The expression of a creator’s ideas, fixed in a material form or recorded as a work that realises the ideas, is protected.

Therefore, it would be prudent to keep meticulous records and evidence of any works created or ideas recorded based on copyright being automatic. This will be invaluable when an audit trail is called upon to prove the rights holder’s ownership.

How can you show a work is protected by copyright?

It is always best to mark original works, when published, broadcast, distributed, etc, with:

  • the international copyright symbol ©
  • the name of the copyright owner
  • the publication year
For example: © [YOUR NAME] [2021]). This marking is not a UK requirement, but it certainly helps in any infringement proceedings and is necessary in certain foreign countries.

What is copyright infringement?

An infringement of copyright occurs when any non-rights holding person carries out any actions that are exclusive rights of a right holder without obtaining permission in a legally recognised form from the copyright owner.

A person or business can be charged with secondary copyright infringement if, for example,  they import, have possession of, sell or distribute any work which they know or suspect is copyright protected.

Are there exceptions to copyright infringement definitions?

Short answer – yes. The main exceptions include:

  • Making copies that are only for temporary use
  • Fair use while executing a criticism, review, quotation or news report
  • Fair use for the execution of a caricature, parody or pastiche
  • Use for research and private study
  • Incidental use (e.g. a painting is hanging on a wall behind someone being interviewed)
  • Educational use
  • Public interest or copying works (and enlarging or altering) for the visually impaired