Copyright Trivia: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Briffa | December 23, 2020


For many clients, copyright law appears to be a complex area, and we are often tasked with dispelling and clarifying popular copyright misconceptions. But, copyright law does not have to be complicated. So, listed below, we have popular opinions, principles and statements regarding copyright. Can you identify which are fact or fiction?

  1. “Copyright must be registered.”


We often take enquiries from clients seeking assistance with ‘registering’ their copyright. If you are wondering, this is in fact fiction. Under UK copyright law, copyright is automatic and there is no requirement for formal registration. As a creator of any literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works, you will automatically generate copyright protection in the work you create. It is therefore important that you retain copies of each version of the things you create, as each version will attribute its own copyright.

  1. “I paid the freelancer, so I own the copyright.”


If you have been reading our blogs you probably know that this is indeed fiction. Under UK copyright law the owner of the copyright is the author of the works. The exception to this principle is works created by employees during the course of employment, in this instance, the copyright will be owned by the employer.

However, it’s different with a freelancer. Even if you pay for a freelancer’s services the copyright will remain with them unless you sign a written agreement that assigns copyright in the work over to you. It is therefore important that whenever you instruct freelancers or a consultant, you consider entering an agreement that ensures you own the copyright in all work that is created.

  1. “Copyright infringement extends beyond copying someone’s works.”


This is true. Under copyright law, the copyright owner has the exclusive right to prevent another party from:

  • copying your work
  • distributing copies of it, whether free of charge or for sale
  • renting or lending copies of your work
  • performing, showing or playing your work in public
  • making an adaptation of your work
  • putting it on the internet

Therefore, if a third party carries out any of the acts listed above (whether in whole or a substantial part), they are at risk of copyright infringement unless an exception applies. In order to avoid the risk of infringement, you should always seek to get the copyright owner’s permission.

  1. “Things freely downloadable on the internet are not copyright protected and are free to use.”


This is, by far, one of the more worrisome misconceptions we encounter. As copyright is automatic, so long as the work is original and falls into one of the following categories of work, it will acquire automatic copyright protection:

  • literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work
  • computer programme or software
  • databases
  • sound recording, films or broadcasts
  • typographical arrangements of published editions

Copyright protection will generally last the life of the author plus 70 years from death (50 years for sound recordings).  Although work may be published on the Internet freely accessible and downloadable, unless copyright protection has expired it is certainly not free to use. Failure to obtain permission will put you at risk of infringing someone else’s copyright.

  1. “Copyright does not protect ideas or concepts.”


Copyright does not protect ideas. It can only protect the tangible manifestation of your idea. So, the moment your idea becomes a written script, book, photo, drawing or music, it will automatically acquire copyright protection on creation.  Unfortunately, if someone independently creates something that is similar to what you have created, they will not be infringing on your copyright, so long as they have not actually copied your work.

If you have an idea that is worth protecting the safest way to protect it is to ensure that you sign a non-disclosure agreement with anyone you disclose your ideas to.

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