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Copyright: The Basics

Copyright Guide

This section provides an overview of copyright legislation, its duration and the rights of the copyright holder. 

You should remember that it is your responsibility to ensure that any use you make of third party materials is in line with the law.

Library and Learning Services staff will support you in making the right decisions in your work, but we are not able to provide legal advice. 

Copyright - The Basics

In short, copyright legislation exists to prevent the hard work of others from exploitation. Copyright is automatically assigned as soon as original ideas are produced and captured through text, art, film, music, broadcasts, performance and recordings. It is important to note that Copyright does not have be claimed or registered, it is automatically awarded. 

In most cases, copyright belongs to the original creator of the work, unless it has been produced through the normal course of employment, in which case it may be claimed by the company, or organisation for whom the creator works. In either situation, permission must be sought from the rights owner before the work can be reused in whole or in part, unless it is otherwise specified. 

It is possible for the copyright of work to be assigned to another party, and publishers may request you to do this as part of the publishing contract. It is important to read and understand the terms of any publishing contract, as this can affect your rights to reuse, publish or present your own work in future events and publications, or to make a copy of your work available through the institutional repository or other subject-based repositories. 

There are some general rules which apply to the duration of copyright, but the duration can vary according to the type of work covered. 

Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works - generally lasts for 70 years from the end of the calendar year of the death of the author. In the case of multiple authors, this will be the death of the last surviving author. Exceptions to this include unpublished works, works where the authorship is unknown or Crown Copyright and Parliamentary copyright.

Typographical works - generally lasts for 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which it was first published. Where a new edition of a work is produced, and new content is added, new elements will 'reset' the copyright clock, and attract copyright protection in line with these timeframes, even if the original work is out of copyright. 

Copyright protects both economic and moral rights. 

Economic rights are those that only the rights holder can authorise. These include:

  • the right to copy the work,
  • the right to distribute, rent or lend, perform or show the work,
  • the right to communicate it to the public (including making it available online),
  • the right to adapt in any way.

Moral rights are those the author retains regardless of who owns the economic rights. Moral rights can be waived, but not licensed or assigned. These include:

  • the right to be identified as the author,
  • the right not to have a work they did not create attributed to them,
  • the right to object to derogatory treatment of the work.