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Information: Registration of copyright protected works


How do I register my copyright?

The British Copyright Council often receives enquiries from members of the public seeking either to register their copyright or wanting to know how copyright registration services that advertise on the internet work. The purpose of this note is to explain the situation in the UK clearly and concisely. For further more detailed information please contact a specialist lawyer.

In the UK, copyright exists automatically in an original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work from the moment it is created and recorded, either in writing or in some other material form, for example, as a painting, a manuscript, a letter, a photograph, on CD, or on tape.

The first copyright in the work belongs to its author, which is the person who creates it: for example, the painter, the poet, the writer, the photographer, or the composer. This is the case unless the work is made in the course of employment.

The UK has no system for registering copyright in a work because it exists automatically.

However, there may be circumstances in which you need to show that your work was in existence on or by a given date, for example, where there is a dispute over a later work by a third party who you think has infringed your copyright.

The simplest and cheapest method of achieving this is to make a copy of the work, perhaps a photocopy, or a CD. Do not send your original work in the post. Send the copy in a sealed envelope to yourself, preferably by registered post. When the envelope returns to you do not open it and make sure that the date stamp is clear. A useful tip for those creating new works on a regular basis is to mark the envelope on its return with the name or the version of the work it contains, so you can easily identify it should you need to. File the envelope somewhere safe. The envelope must only ever be opened on the instructions of a lawyer or a court.

Using this method you can prove your work was in existence by the date given on the postmark. There are other alternatives. You could lodge a copy of your work in a sealed package with your bank manager or your lawyer, but this will cost more. One or two professional associations offer a similar service but only for their members, for example, BECTU’s script registration service.

None of these alternatives register the copyright (because protection is automatic) and none of these alternatives protect your work against copyright infringement. In court you would have to show other things, such as, whether the other person had access to your original work and also whether a substantial part of your original work has been copied. The precautions you take at this initial stage will merely help to clear one of the hurdles, that is, proving the date by which your work existed, thereby demonstrating that it pre-dated another work.

Neither the Government nor any industry body offers a system for registering copyright in the UK. What a commercial service can do is provide you with an alternative to posting a letter to yourself, lodging your work with your lawyer or your bank or with your professional association. The British Copyright Council does not have any information about whether the commercial registration services currently on the internet or elsewhere are reliable or useful. If in doubt, check first with your legal adviser, professional representative or the industry body representing your area of creative interest (see the list of BCC members).

For further information about protecting your copyright, check relevant pages on the Intellectual Property Office website. Also search for “copyright” on the websites of BCC members organisations in your relevant sector.


Updated Dec 2018


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