What is Copyright?
Copyright gives the owner the right to prevent certain acts taking place without their permission in relation to the work that is protected or any substantial part of it, such as:
- Issuing copies to the public
- Renting or lending to the public
- Adaptation (including translation)
- Performance in public
Copyright works are owned by their authors, and all their authors if more than one, except where they are produced by an employee in the course of his/her employment or have been produced under an agreement that assigns the rights to another. With some exceptions, the copyright will last for 70 years following the death of the author (or, in a collaboration, when the last of the authors dies).
Most countries in the world subscribe to the Berne Convention, which offers reciprocal enforcement provisions, meaning there is effective worldwide protection for copyright, all without the need for registration. However, some important jurisdictions such as the USA and China do require registration of copyright, and if these are a major area of interest it is worth considering those requirements carefully.
Because of the way copyright comes into being without registration, it can be difficult to control. For instance, if a third party such as an agency or contract worker creates work for a business, they will remain the copyright owner in their work even after it has been paid for, and the business will have only at best a licence implied by law, unless the right contracts are in place.
The best route to a sound copyright strategy is to have internal standard contracts and management systems that identify and capture all the rights required. Our team members have extensive expertise in this area, having acted for many years for major organisations whose business model is based on copyright works and their exploitation. The team advises constantly on all facets of copyright law, from commercial exploitation to infringement proceedings.
Types of Copyright
Any original work that is recorded in the appropriate medium, whether on paper, in a computer file or in a sound or video recording, which is created by someone who qualifies under the relevant legislation (that is, just about anyone), is immediately protected by copyright where it is:
- a literary work (such as original writing, song lyrics, text of any kind, software code or some databases, the latter being relevant to websites and apps);
- an artistic work (such as graphics, photography, artwork, design sketches, sculptures, works of craftsmanship and some design models some of which are relevant to websites and apps);
- a dramatic work (such as a drama, a dance piece, a script for film, TV or radio, or for any piece that can be performed);
- a musical work (such as original music, the music for a song with a separate lyric, a musical arrangement or other arrangements of sounds);
- a film (such as a film of any length, a video of any kind, an animation or animated sections of games);
- a sound recording (whether a record, a voicemail message or recording of any kind of audio);
- a broadcast (whether by a recognised broadcaster or by way of a website or in any other format or medium).
The treatment of computer software programmes as copyright works gives rise to the need for a licence to run the programme as that involves a copy of the programme or a substantial part of it being made in the device running the software.
Exploitation of Copyright
One issue that causes much conflict and confusion is that what copyright protects is the work, not the ideas set out in the work. Sometimes, the dividing line between the two, often referred to as the difference between the idea and its expression, is clear and sometimes not. But the basic rule is simple: an idea in itself is not protected.
The ways in which copyright works are exploited are boundless; the media, software and online industries rely to an immense extent on the control and exploitation of copyright works. Without copyright works, there would be no publishing, music or advertising industries, no film or TV companies, no Microsoft, Facebook or YouTube. Even outside these industries, every business that has a website is now a publisher, whether it thinks of itself in that way or not, and probably a broadcaster as well.
Authors’, performers’ and moral rights
While not strictly speaking intellectual property rights, these allied rights are important for writers and performers. They give to those involved in creative activities the right to control to some extent the way in which their work is presented or exploited independently of the copyright ownership.
For example, an author is entitled to be identified as the author of a work even if he/she has disposed of the copyright. Likewise, there is the right to object to derogatory treatment of the work, and to object to the false attribution of a work.
Performers have an extended set of rights, split into non-property rights, which cannot be bought or sold and include the all-important right to control who may record a performance, and property rights, which go deeper towards being commercial rights relating to the exploitation of recordings and which can be transferred. These rights are essentially based on the objective of avoiding where possible the commercial exploitation of recordings and films of performances, which take place without the consent of the performer or in a way that confers no benefit on the performer.
Beyond their obvious importance to those industries that are based on authors and performers, these rights can have importance in a number of other commercial contexts. Just as most businesses are now publishers and broadcasters without thinking of themselves in that way, so many of the people they employ and contract with are (whether they know it or not) also performers and authors, for instance, in the context of video capture of lectures and events, and these rights must not be forgotten.
Our team has worked extensively with both artists and organisations on the issues that can arise in connection with these rights.
Relevant publications by team members
Valuation and Exploitation of Intellectual Property and Intangible Assets, by John Sykes, co-author. (Emis).
Brands: Law, Practice and Precedents, by Clive Lawrence (Jordans Publishing)
Sports Business: Law Practice and Precedents, by Clive Lawrence, co-author (Jordans Publishing)
Sport: Law and Practice, Clive Lawrence, contributor, 3rd Edition (Tottel)
Getting in Touch
If you have intellectual property that needs protecting and you think copyright might be the answer, contact John Sykes or Clive Lawrence using the details on the enquiry form to discuss your needs. We have offices in Leeds, Sheffield and York meaning we are able to provide assistance to organisations across Yorkshire.