Clough & Willis Solicitors, Commercial and private legal services UK

Copyright Law

We act for owners of copyright, protecting their rights, and defend those against whom claims are made.

For more details on any copyright matter please speak to me Grahame Henry on freephone 0800 083 0815 or by email

I have set out below an introduction to copyright law which I hope you may find helpful. 

NOTE: The information below is an introduction to this complex field. It is not intended to replace specific advice and, necessarily compresses some legal issues for ease of understanding .

Copyright protects an original artistic, literary, dramatic or musical work. It also covers sound recordings, films, broadcasts and published works. It is governed largely by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

Copyright does not have to be registered to exist: the simple act of creation gives copyright to the creator in an original work.

In general the author or creator is the owner of copyright. The obvious exception is where an employee creates the work while in the course of his employment.

Copyright may be assigned by its owner to another person (or business) in writing, by bequest, or by operation of law.

How long is a work protected by copyright?

In works created on or after 1 st January 1996 :

•  Artistic, literary, dramatic or musical work is protected for 70 years from the end of the year of the author's death. (It follows that it is protected for all of the author's lifetime). Where the work is computer generated it is protected for 50 years from the end of the year it is created.

•  Sound recordings: 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording was made, or 50 years from the date of publication or broadcast.

•  Film; the period of 70 years from the year of death of the last a number of key people including the director, author of the screenplay, author of dialogue or composer of the film's music.

•  Broadcasts: 50 years from the end of the year of original broadcast.

•  Published editions: 25 years from the end of the year of first publication.

In the case of works created outside the European Economic Area ("EEA”) or before 1 st January 1996 other rules apply

Infringing Copyright

Copyright is infringed by a person who without the licence of the owner does any restricted act.

Broadly speaking restricted acts include (but may not be limited to)

  • reproducing the work in any form,
  • issuing copies to the public,
  • renting or lending original copies to the public,
  • performing it in public
  • communicating it to the public
  • adapting it

Remedies for infringement

The usual remedies are an injunction , a declaration, damages for infringement, an account (ie the infringer must show how much trading it undertook) and delivery up of infringing copies for destruction.

Common Breaches of Copyright

Many breaches of copyright occur every day. For example recording a DVD of a film or television programme at home is likely to infringe copyright.

Playing a radio which broadcasts speech or music in a public space (eg in a bar or in a factory floor) without a licence from the Performing Rights Society is likely to breach copyright.

Breaches of copyright may be multiple: in the examples given above there may be copyright owned by the author of the work, the adapter and the broadcaster.

Litigated Breaches

In the commercial world copyright may well protect items which appear to have no "artistic” value. The word artistic is given very broad meaning. It certainly covers, for example, design drawings upon which a product is subsequently based. Making a copy of the product may be a breach of copyright in respect of the item or the design drawings of the original. Common examples include handbags, shoes and other items you might find in a typical market.

Copyright will almost certainly exist in brochures advertising goods and services and in text on websites (such as this article).

Photographs you download from the internet will almost certainly have copyright protection.

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