Copyright is legal right that protects the use of your work once your idea has been physically expressed. The current copyright legislation in the UK is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. You can find out more about copyright legislation by visiting the Intellectual Property Office

Copyright law lays out a framework of rules around how that work can be used. It sets out the rights of the owner, as well as the responsibilities of other people who want to use the work. You can do many things with your copyright work including for example copy, change or sell it, share it online or rent it to someone as well as prevent other people from doing those things.

The UK has one of the strongest creative sectors in the world. According to government statistics published in January 2014, the creative industry generates an average of £8million every hour.  Every time you watch an online clip, listen to music, read your favourite blog, or enjoy something creative, you are interacting with copyright in some way.  Copyright protects most creative things you create, too.

For your work to be protected by copyright law it needs to be original and tangible

For your work to be protected by copyright law it needs to be original and tangible. 

  • Original For a work to be original it must be the product of your own skill and labour or intellectual creation and
    should not just replicate the work of someone else (such as imitating a drawing or a painting). This is to prevent simple things like writing a poem consisting of a single word being automatically protected by copyright. Otherwise, being creative in daily life would be impossible without stumbling into someone else's copyright.
  • Tangible This means that it can’t just be an idea you've had. Instead you need to have expressed that idea in a physical form. When you make up a tune in your head, it is only protected by copyright from the moment you write down the musical score or record a performance of it.  

Copyright protection arises automatically as soon as your work is created. Unlike a patent or trademark, you don’t need to register your work to ensure your rights are protected by copyright.

Copyright however may not protect all forms of creativity, and in some cases a different form of Intellectual Property (IP) protection may be more suitable. You can find more information about the different forms of IP protection and what they do here.

How long is my work protected for?

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The period your copyright work is protected for depends on a number of factors such as the type of work you have created and when it was made.  For example, when you write a poem your work will be protected until 70 years after your death. But if you act in a play, any rights in your performance are protected for a period of 50 years.

The Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 gives you a longer period of protection than previous historic legislation. For information on the history of copyright click on Related Links.

Is my work protected outside the UK?

Each country has its own copyright law and copyright practice can vary, but most countries will protect works created in other countries in the same way that they protect their own citizens’ creations. Click on the Related Links for further resources.