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  Copyright Facts and Glossary

What is copyright?

Copyright is legislation intended to protect the rights of creators of certain kinds of material for a certain amount of time, to allow them to benefit from their work in any way they wish.
Copyright protection is automatic, there is no requirement to register works.
Copyright may be bought and sold like any other property: however, some authors and performers choose to waive their rights and make their work freely available to all.
Copyright subsists in most products of creative work, e.g. Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts or cable programmes, databases, multimedia productions, websites, computer programs, official publications, and also the typographical layouts of published material. The definition of "literary" works is broad and includes textbooks and scientific or technical reports. "Artistic" works include drawings, diagrams, maps, plans, photographs and sculptures.
Copyright is infringed when a substantial part of a work is copied without permission. Copying includes photocopying, photographing, electronic copying (including storage of the work in electronic form), converting to a different format, tele-facsimile (fax) and even copying by hand!
The principal legislation for Copyright in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, (which has since been augmented by a number of Statutory Instruments and case law), and the EU Directive on Copyright 2001/29/EC, in force Oct 2003. The full text of these documents may be consulted via Westlaw (find this database using LibrarySearch, Databases tab​​).
There seems to be no single official document which incorporates all the subsequent changes to the act, but the UK Intellectual Property Office has produced a useful page on Copyright Law that brings it all together.

Who owns the copyright? 

Copyright is normally owned by the creators of the material unless they have chosen to transfer it to someone else. It can be very complicated to work out who owns all the copyrights in multimedia works, but here are some broad guidelines:
  • Books = normally authors or editors, but could be publisher or employer of author. Note that the publisher also has copyright in the type layout of printed works
  • Journal articles = could be author, but often the journal publisher, as transfer of copyright may be a condition of publication
  • Photographs = photographer since 1989, or owner of negatives before that
  • Databases = maker, or employer of maker
  • Films = producer and principal director, but there will be separate copyrights in music, screenplay, dialogue etc.
  • Broadcasts = person making broadcast, or employer
  • Sound recordings = performers, composers, also mechanical copyright in the recording.
  • Multimedia productions = very complicated, could be writers, performers, producers, composers, choreographers etc.
Some sectors of activity have set up organisations to promote and protect the copyrights of their members, and to collect royalties. These are often the best places to begin an enquiry about copyright permissions.
  • Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS) - for artists and visual creators.
  • MCPS-PRS Alliance - The Performing Right Society (PRS) deals with public performance and broadcast of musical works. The Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) deals with recorded music in all formats.
  • Phonographic Performance Limited - a music industry organisation collecting and distributing airplay and public performance royalties in the UK
  • Music Publishers' Association (MPA) - deals with permissions to copy printed music.

Do I own the copyright in articles / books I have written while employed by Edinburgh Napier University? 

Works created as part of your job may well be owned by your employer. However, publication in an academic journal may require you to transfer copyright to the journal publisher, and this may well be acceptable to Edinburgh Napier University. If in doubt, check with Enterprise and Commercialisation.

How long does copyright last?

Generally speaking, in EU countries, copyright lasts until 70 years after the end of the year of the death of (all) the creators of the material. If the author is unknown, then 70 years from publication date.
Some Crown copyright material is only covered for 50 years, and some things have no copyright at all. For more information see our section on Copying Official Publications.
Ordnance Survey maps over 50 years old are out of copyright.
For sound recordings and broadcasts, copyright is currently 50 years from the end of the year of release.
The typographical layout of printed works is usually protected for 25 years from the end of the year of publication. | Edinburgh Napier Mobile App