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Copyright protects original literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works, as well as sound recordings, films, broadcasts and typographical arrangements.

Copyright has existed since the 18th Century and is today governed by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1986 in the UK, and is subject to frequent amendment as the law tries to keep up with technological and social developments.

Copyright is the main way in which creators protect their work by giving them the right to permit or refuse use of their works. These rights include:

  • Reproduction (e.g. printing copies of a book)
  • Distribution (e.g. Selling copies of books or DVDs)
  • Public Performance (e.g. showing a film in a cinema)
  • Rental and Lending (e.g. at a library or DVD store)
  • Adaptation (e.g. turning a novel in to a film)
  • Communicate to the public (e.g. putting a copy of a video on a website)



Copyright, like other forms of IP is a property right and creators make their livings from their works by selling their rights and allowing publishers, producers, etc. to exploit their work. Most creators will want to narrow the range of rights that they assign or licence at anyone time, while producers and publishers will want to expand the range of rights they acquire.

Note the requirement of originality for literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works. This means that copyright only protects work that has been created using the skill, labour and judgement of the creator. 

Note that in the EU the originality test is defined as intellectual creation while in the US a ‘modicum of creativity’ is required.

Despite these differences the threshold in the UK is traditionally set very low and does not include any analysis of aesthetic or cultural standards. However, copyright is a non-exclusive right so if someone (without directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously) copying from a work previously created, creates an identical or similar work, there is no infringement of your copyright.