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Information: Poetry

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 i.e. as a literary work, that they are afforded copyright protection.

Copyright protection applies to all original literary works.
The term literary work means any work, (other than a dramatic or musical work,) which is written, spoken or sung, and includes poetry.

A poem must be “original” in the sense that it originates with the author. It is her or his own creation: not copied, but the result of exercising independent skill, labour and judgement.

The author of a poem is normally the first owner of copyright in that poem, unless the poem was created by an employee during their employment.

Copyright in a poem, as with other literary works, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

The Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 prohibits reproduction of a copyright work either in whole or in substantial part (“substantial” in this context refers to the quality of the extract as much as to the quantity) without the copyright owner’s permission. With a poem, unless it is very long, it is almost impossible not to reproduce a substantial part, whatever the length of the extract.
There are certain circumstances where a poem or part of a poem may be reproduced without first obtaining permission. These are

    • for the purposes of non-commercial research and private study;
    • for the purposes of criticism and review;
    • for the purposes of instruction and examination;
    • for anthologies for educational use

These sections of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 should be interpreted very carefully as the circumstances in which they apply are narrowly drawn and an acknowledgement of the author and the copyright owner should always be included.


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