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Copyright is a right to stop others from copying your work without permission and it arises automatically without the need for registration.

Copyright can only exist in the expression of an idea in a tangible form. It is the creative work, rather than the ideas in it, that is protected. The distinction is difficult to draw, but an example may be useful to show what is protected under copyright law.

If a photographer takes a picture of a landscape, that picture will be copyright. The picture cannot be copied without the consent of the photographer. However, this does not prevent another photographer taking a similar picture of the same landscape. The second photograph, though using the idea of the first, would not be a reproduction of the first photograph; indeed a separate copyright would exist in that second photograph.

Copyright law protects only works that are 'original'. Original means that the works are not copies of another work. In other words, the works must originate from their author's independent skill, effort and judgment.

Copyright law

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (1988 Act) is where UK copyright law is set out.

UK copyright works are protected overseas because the UK has signed up to 4 principal copyright conventions:

  • The Berne Convention (Berne)
  • The Universal Copyright Convention (the UCC)
  • The Rome Convention
  • The WIPO Copyright Treaty (the WCT)

In an effort to harmonise copyright law, these provide minimum protections in countries that have signed up to these conventions.

The 1988 Act generally provides copyright protection if the author is a national of, or the work was first published in, the UK or a state which is a signatory to one of the various international conventions.

What is the law guide

The Desktop Lawyer law guide aims to present the law to you in a comprehensive yet jargon-free and easy-to-read format. Our law guide is constantly kept up to date with changes in business and family law by our team of in house solicitors, and includes information across all the legal jurisdictions in the UK.

Our law guide is free to use. Where we provide documents related to this area of law, or where they may help you with any legal issue in this area, they will be listed to the right of this message.