How to use copyright

!! Draft Document - Don't rely on it !!

Copyright is a complex law, with a large amount of variety depending on the kind of work it is being applied to, or the intended use of the work. This document will explain the current state of copyright law, including what works it applies to, how long the protection lasts for, and what exceptions exist. It will then go on to explain how you can use copyright law to protect your work, how you can allow others to use your work for certain uses and also to reuse other's work in your own creations without breaking the law.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a law that gives creators the right to control how their work may be used. In the United Kingdom it protects seven distinct categories of work:

  • Literary
  • Dramatic
  • Musical
  • Artistic
  • Typographical arrangements
  • Sound recording
  • Films

The law specifically allows for control over the use of these works in broadcast and public performances, as well as control over the copying, adapting, issuing, renting and lending of copies to the public. Depending on the type of work, the duration of copyright protection varies:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works are protected for 70 years from the death of the last remaining author of a work; if the author is unknown then it is protected for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first created, and if the work was made public during that time it is protected for 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was first made public.
  • Sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the end of the calendar year when the work was first created, or if made public during that time, 50 years from the end of the calendar year when it was first released.
  • Films are protected under the same terms of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, with the exception being that copyright is usually granted to the principal director, author or composer of the work.
  • Typographical arrangements are protected for 25 years from the of the calendar year when the work was first published.
  • Broadcasts and cable programmes are protected for 50 years from the end of the calendar year when the programme was first broadcast.

Qualifying For Copyright Protection

For a work in one of the categories covered by copyright to qualify for protection it must be expressed in a physical form and be regarded as original. Being original, however, does not mean that it must be novel, and it is quite acceptable for a work to be a new interpretation of an old idea. If the work qualifies protection is automatically granted and there is no need for registration.

To help protect a work, it is advisable that you mark it with the copyright symbol (©), along with the date that the work was first expressed in physical form and the name of the person who owns the copyright. This allows people to know whether permission is needed to reuse a work, and if it is who to contact to gain permission.

In most circumstances, the copyright is owned by whoever put the work into physical form, but there are exceptions to this: if a work is produced as part of employment then it normally belongs to the employer; commissioned work is usually owned by the author, unless stated to the contrary in a contract of services or other agreement.

Exceptions To Copyright

There are a number of exceptions to the protection provided by copyright, known as "fair dealing" in the United Kingdom. They allow you to make use of copyrighted work without seeking prior permission in specific circumstances, including for criticism and review, non-commercial use or teaching in educational establishments. If you are planning to make use of some copyrighted material, first check to see if it falls under one of the exceptions as this could save a lot of hard work.

These exceptions have been well documented by by the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Protecting Your Copyright

How to proceed when protecting your copyright is your own decision as this is a private right. It is recommended that after discovering an infringement you first try to contact whoever is using your work and attempt to resolve the situation between yourselves. Not only could this save you legal fees, but it could also save a lot stress and unpleasantness for both parties.

If you fail to resolve the dispute through private communication you may then need to take proceedings to court where a variety of actions may be taken, including the prevention of further violations or the awarding of damages.

Again, the UK IPO has documented the procedures needed for enforcing your copyright and has a number of further steps you can take.

Allowing Specific Uses Of Your Works

Copyright is flexible, and you can license your work so that others can use it for certain purposes without seeking further permission from you. There are a huge number of reasons why you might choose to do this, ranging from encouraging the widest possible dissemination of your work, to allowing archivists and educators easy access, to wanting to encourage fan translations and other remixes of your work.

The most popular tool for easily licensing your work in this manner, without seeking a lawyer, is to use the Creative Commons licenses. They have a wide range of choices, giving you the ability to allow various uses of your work under different terms, including non-commercial or share-alike. To use them, simply visit their website and use the selector tool to find the license that's right for you. At the end of the process, they will explain how to apply it to your work and let people know what they are allowed to do with it.

Reusing A Copyrighted Work

If you want to reuse a work in your own creation, begin by checking to see if your intended use falls under the scope of one of the exceptions to copyright as tracking down rights holders to get individual permission can be difficult.

If your intended use is not covered by one of the fair dealing exceptions, assume that any work you would like to use is copyrighted and you need permission before doing anything with it. Then, look to see if you can see any more detailed copyright information: this could include license details or the name and contact information of the rights holder. If you can't find any information that says your intended use is OK, you need to get in touch with the rights holder to get their permission. Sadly, this is a difficult process as rights holders are not required to provide their name or contact information. For some helpful information on how techniques you can use to speed your search, see this page.