Copyright: the basics
Key information regarding the basics of copyright protection and how long it lasts.
Copyright is an intellectual property right. In the UK, copyright is set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and related legislation.
The Act recognises eight different types of protectable works. These are often grouped into the so-called authorial works, which includes literary, dramatic, musical and artistic ones, and entrepreneurial works - which covers films, sound recordings, broadcasts and typographic layouts.
Broadly speaking, the creator of a copyright work gets the right to stop any other person from doing any of the restricted acts with that work, unless they have granted that person a licence to do the particular act, or the person can rely on a copyright legal exception. The restricted acts are sometimes called the economic rights, as they can allow rights holders to profit from their creations.
These deal with copying and dissemination of works, and are the exclusive rights to:
- copy the work (reproduction right)
- issue (physical) copies to the public (distribution right)
- rent or lend the work to the public
- perform, show or play in public
- communicate to the public (electronically, e.g. posting online)
- adapt the work (e.g. translation)
The creators of authorial works, and some films, may also benefit from moral rights. These include:
- Right to be identified as the author (right of paternity)
- Right to object to derogatory treatment of the work (right of integrity)
- Right to not have works falsely attributed to them
Duration of copyright may depend upon whether a work is published or unpublished, and whether the identity of the creator is known/unknown.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
|Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works
70 years from death of author
If several authors, 70 years following death of last surviving author
|Computer-generated literary works
|50 years from date of creation
|50 years from date of recording, or 70 years from date of publication
|70 years following the last death of: director, author of dialogue, author of screenplay, composer of soundtrack
|50 years from date of broadcast
|25 years from publication
|125 years from publication
|Unpublished anonymous works created before 1 August 1989
|Copyright expires on 31 December 2039
Ask a question
Phone: +44 114 222 7200
International Merit Scholarships
We offer a generous package of financial support for international students including 75 undergraduate scholarships worth £10,000 towards the annual tuition fee and 125 postgraduate taught scholarships worth £5,000 towards the tuition fee. Applications are now open for existing offer holders.