Copyright: the basics

Key information regarding the basics of copyright protection and how long it lasts.


Copyright: the basics

What does copyright give you?

As discussed in the video above, there are seven categories of protected work in UK law.

For example, if you have created a literary work (a book or some computer code), an artistic work (a painting or sculpture), or a musical work (a written composition), what do you, as the creator, get in terms of rights?

Broadly speaking, copyrights are divided into two types: economic and moral. 


Deals with copying and dissemination of the work, including

  • copying of the work

  • issuing copies to the public

  • renting or lending work to the public

  • performing, showing or playing in public 

  • communicating to the public

  • adapting the work 


Concerns protecting you as the author, including

  • identifying you as the author

  • objecting to derogatory treatment 

  • not to having works falsely allocated 

How long does copyright last?

Duration of copyright may depend upon whether a work is published or unpublished or whether the creator is known/unknown.

This table outlines the duration of copyright protection for a variety of material types in the UK. The length of protection may vary in other countries. Once works are out of copyright they enter the public domain and are available to reuse.

Type of material Duration of copyright
All works

70 years from death of author

If several authors, 70 years following death of last surviving author

Dramatic and musical work 70 years from publication if no named author
Sound recordings 70 years from recording and performance rights (from November 2013)
Films 70 years following the last death of: director, producer, author of screenplay, composer of soundtrack
Broadcasts 50 years from date of broadcast
Typographical layout 25 years from publication
Crown copyright 125 years from publication but subject to a waiver
Unpublished anonymous works created before 1 August 1989 Copyright expires on 31 December 2039

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