Article - Intellectual Property

Copyright - A Brief Introduction

Ever since the advent of the printing press, authors have been concerned about protecting their original work.  This has been protected by copyright law, currently governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("the Act"). 

The Act protects original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and cable programmes from copying.  Any creator of an original work has the protection of copyright, from the producer of a film to the author of copy for a website.

One of the main differences with copyright law when it is compared to other forms of intellectual property is that there is no requirement of registration.  Copyright in an original work exists once that work is published.  What is meant by published depends on the nature of the work protected.  For example, a dramatic work is “published” when it is first performed and a cable programme when it is first broadcast on TV.

Infringement of copyright occurs when someone "copies" the original work.  This copying can occur when the work is copied in any permanent or transient form.  A typical example of this is when a text is photocopied.  Problems arise with computer programmes as the very nature of software means that transient copying will always occur to facilitate the use of the software.

One way to protect your copyright is to include the following with any work:

© [Copyright Owner], [Year]

This article would therefore include the following copyright statement:

© Student Law Journal, 2004

This is one of the most basic and effective ways of asserting copyright in your original work.  This will not, of course, prevent someone from copying your original work but it will act as a deterrent.  It will, however, mean that a defence could be raised that they did not know the work was subject to copyright or for them to claim that they created the work.

If you are considering paying someone to create an original work then you need to give serious conseration to whether you wish to own the copyright in that work.  If you do not, then the creator of the work will automatically own the copyright and you may have to pay an additional licence fee.  If you wish to own the copyright then you should enter in to a formal assignment agreement.  If you are the creator of the work, then you should consider specifying either that the copyright in the work will remain yours and that you will provide a licence to your client for them to use it, or that you will assign it (possibly for an additional fee) to the person for whom it was created.

Article First Published: 12 September 2004

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The views on this website are not necessarily those of the Student Law Journal and is not intended to provide legal advice.  Any legal problems should be specifically addressed to a solicitor.

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