An Author’s Guide to Copyright

Copyright has been around for almost as long as publishing!

In a recent blog post by the British Library it was reported that

“One of the first documented rulings with regards to copyright was made in the late 6th century in Ireland, when King Diarmait mac Cerbaill declared: To every cow belongs its calf; to every book its copy.”

In the early 1700s the first copyright law was passed, granting publishers legal protection against unauthorised copying and authors and artists have used copyright ever since.

Understanding Copyright

Copyright protects your work and stops others from using it without your permission.

You get copyright protection automatically – you don’t have to apply or pay a fee. There isn’t a register of copyright works in the UK.

You automatically get copyright protection when you create:

  • original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including illustration and photography
  • original non-literary written work, such as software, web content and databases
  • sound and music recordings
  • film and television recordings
  • broadcasts
  • the layout of published editions of written, dramatic and musical works

You can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©), your name and the year of creation. Whether you mark the work or not doesn’t affect the level of protection you have.

Copyright prevents people from:

  • copying your work
  • distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
  • renting or lending copies of your work
  • performing, showing or playing your work in public
  • making an adaptation of your work
  • putting it on the internet

Your Rights

Your rights under copyright fall into two distinct categories, Economic Rights and Moral Rights.

Economic Rights

Economic rights give you the opportunity to make commercial gain from the exploitation of your works. This would usually be by licensing others to use the work, or by selling the rights.

The author of a copyright work has the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit the following acts:

  • Reproduction
  • Distribution (this right only applies the first time a copy of a work enters into commercial circulation and so would not prevent the re-sale of that copy, for example by a second hand shop).
  • Rental and lending
  • Public performance
  • Communication of a work to the public by electronic transmission. This would include broadcasting a work or putting it on the internet.
  • Adaptation

Moral Rights

Unlike economic rights, moral rights cannot be sold or otherwise transferred. However, the rights holder can choose to waive these rights.

There are four moral rights recognised in the UK:

  • The right to attribution – This is the right to be recognised as the author of a work. This right needs to be asserted before it applies. For example, in a contract with a publisher, an author may state that they assert their right to be identified as the author of their work.
  • The right to object to derogatory treatment of a work by adapting or distorting it.
  • The right to object to false attribution
  • The right to privacy of certain photographs and films – This right enables someone who has commissioned a photograph or film for private and domestic purposes to prevent it from being made available or exhibited to the public. For example, this would allow you to prevent a photographer from putting your wedding photographs on their website without your permission.

Find our more about copyright on the government’s Intellectual Property Office website.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.