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Information: How original literary works are protected by copyright in the UK

There is no copyright protection for ideas or concepts as such.

It is only when those ideas are expressed in a form from which they can be reproduced or copied i.e. as a literary work, that they are afforded copyright protection.

UK copyright protection applies to all original literary works provided that the author is a British Citizen subject or resident within another country of the Berne Convention (i.e. most of the world).

The term literary work means any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung, and includes tables or compilations, computer programs and databases.

“Original” means that the work originates with the author. It is their own creation: not copied, but the result of exercising independent skill, labour and judgement.

There is no system in the UK for registering copyright. The usual method used to prove a work existed by a given date is for a copy of the manuscript to be sent by the creator, by recorded post, to themselves. The envelope is kept unopened and the postmark used to indicate that the work existed by that date. Alternatively, a copy of the manuscript may be lodged with a bank or a solicitor or with Stationers Hall Registry.

The author is normally the first owner of copyright in their literary work, unless the work was created by an employee during their employment. However, they may choose to transfer their copyright to someone else, such as a publisher or employer.

Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Copyright may be infringed by using the whole or a substantial part of the work without permission of the copyright owner.

Infringing uses include copying, republication, dramatisation, performance in public.

Copyright is usually enforced by taking proceedings in the civil courts (although in certain circumstances the criminal courts may be used).


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