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Find out how copyright benefits you as a writer by clicking on the questions below.
Copyright is the legal right granted to you, the author, when you create an original work – it is a form of ‘intellectual property’ which you can sell, license (to a publisher or a producer, perhaps for a given period of time or until sales fall below a specific number) or leave in your will to your loved ones. There is no copyright in an idea; it only exists when the idea becomes fixed by, for example writing it down.
Copyright law sets out activities relating to your work that require your permission (known as ‘restricted acts’) as well as other activities for which your permission is not required (known as ‘copyright exceptions’). Typically exceptions are passed into law for the good of society and in some circumstances are accompanied by some form of remuneration for you, the author, since you are ceding some of your rights.
By assigning your copyright or licensing others, such as publishers or broadcasters, to exercise your rights, you secure income e.g. through royalties. These are often referred to as your primary rights.
Separate from this, fees for copying and re-use by third parties, such as educational establishments, businesses and public bodies, overseas public lending rights and international broadcast retransmission are collected by ALCS and distributed to you. The uses for which ALCS collects fees are often referred to as your secondary rights.
Copyright owners have exclusive rights in their work. These include the rights:
to copy a work
to issue copies of the work to the public (including by rental or lending)
to perform, show or play the work in pubilc
to broadcast the work or make it available online
to adapt the work or do any of the above in relation to the adaptation.
Anyone who does any of the above without permission or in situations not covered by statutory exceptions is infringing copyright and therefore breaking the law.
As soon as you record an idea, for example by writing down the outline of a story, it is protected by copyright. Copyright is designed to ensure that works may not be reproduced or otherwise used without permission of the copyright owner, allowing creators to profit from their creations.
As long as the work is original, copyright protection is automatic.
There is no formal system in the UK for registering copyright. Though not a requirement, the use of the copyright symbol ©, followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year in which the work was first published is the most common practice. To show that a written work existed by a set date, a copy of the work can be lodged with a reliable third party such as a bank or a solicitor.
In the US, the option of registering your work with the copyright office provides certain benefits in the case of infringement proceedings.
© ALCS, 2015.
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 does provide certain exceptions to copyright. 'Fair Dealing' for example applies to copying a work for the purposes of non-commercial research or private study, illustration for teaching, criticism or review and news reporting, quotation and parody.
Libraries and educational establishments also benefit from copyright exceptions, but in some cases, authors are entitled to receive remuneration from PLR and ALCS.
Copyright in works created during employment usually resides with the employer, unless the employee's contract states otherwise.
The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act primarily governs the use of works in the UK.
However, the UK is a signatory to a number of international treaties that seek to protect the copyright of works when used overseas. These include the 1996 World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty; the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty; the Berne Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC); the Rome Convention for performers, phonogram producers and broadcasters and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) TRIPS Agreement.
A fundamental principle of international copyright law is that all works should be afforded equal protection in each territory, regardless of the nationality of the creator. In this way the works of UK nationals can be protected all over the world.
It also means that ALCS has been able to negotiate bilateral agreements with overseas collecting societies to collect and distribute monies for UK writers' works when they are used internationally.
Moral rights are designed to protect works as an expression of their author's personality, so they protect the bond between you, the author, and your work.
These ‘moral rights’ include the right for you to be identified/associated with your work as well as the right for you to prevent others from altering your work significantly - so as to protect you from any negative impact on your reputation.
Examples of moral rights:
The Paternity (Attribution) Right
The right of a creator to be identified as the author of a work. This right to be credited against your work has to be ‘asserted’ in writing (ie included in your contract).
The Integrity Right
The right to object to any unauthorised distortion or changes to the work which may prejudice an author's honour or reputation.
Wise up - to copyright and your rights
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