27 May 2010 Revised 5 and 9 April and 28 June 2017

Copyright protects the work of artists, broadcasters, composers, dramatists, film makers, publishers, recording studios other creative persons from unlicensed plagiarism and other exploitation. It connotes two sets of rights known respectively as “economic rights” and “moral rights“. The former consist of the exclusive right to copy, publish, play, broadcast, rent, lend, perform, show, play, communicate to the public or adapt a work. The latter include the rights to be acknowledged as a work’s author and to object to the derogatory treatment of a work.

The first copyright legislation in England was the Statute of Anne of 1710 which was enacted in response to challenges posed by the printing press. The law has evolved to take account of new technologies such as photography and engraving in the 19th century, films, broadcasting, sound recording, computing and reprography in the 20th and the internet and digitization in the 21st.

Works in which Copyright can subsist
The works in which copyright can subsist include original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts and typographical arrangements of published editions.

The scope of some of these categories is very large. “literary works” for instance includes computer programs, databases and other compilations and possibly even net lists for printed circuit board design as well as poems and novels. “Films“ includes video recordings and animations as well as cinema.

For many years, product designs were protected by artistic copyright. The duration of the protection and breadth of the remedies prompted Parliament to except manufacturing articles from design documents from the rights reserved to copyright owners and to create a new intellectual property right known as unregistered design right in its place.

International Obligations
Countries that belong to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) are obliged to give effect to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”). Members must give effect to various international agreements, including the Berne Convention, and provide specific protection for various types of work such as computer programs and films, under their national laws. Berne prescribes the works to be protected, the conditions for protection, the rights to be granted, the terms of protection, exceptions and remedies. Art 20 of that convention permits special agreements between parties within the framework of that convention. One such agreement is the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which confers protection on computer programs and databases, establishes new distribution, rental and communications rights together with certain exceptions to those rights and requires members to protect technological and rights management measures against circumvention.

European Harmonization
The European Council and Parliament have adopted a number of directives to harmonize national copyright laws. They cover computer software and databases, rental and lending right, satellite and cable broadcasting, term of protection, digital works and and artists’ resale rights. Nearly all of these provisions have been implemented into English law.

Implementation in the UK
The principal statute is the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 as amended. This Act, which came into force on 1 August 1989, repealed and replaced the Copyright Act 1956. It made a number of far reaching changes including:

  • substituting unregistered design right for artistic copyright as the main means of protecting product designs;
  • a new set of rights based on copyright to protected actors, dancers, musicians, singers and other performing artistes from unauthorized recording of their performances;
  • a whole new set of moral rights, and 
  • abolition of conversion damages.
The 1988 Act has been amended many times since 1989, largely to give effect to the above-mentioned international agreements and EU directives.

Relationship with other Intellectual Property Rights
The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 is itself the source of the three new intellectual property rights mentioned above, namely moral rights, rights in performances and unregistered design rights. Harmonizing directives have created in turn a new database right, a new publication right and a new artists' resale right.

Claims for infringement of copyright can be brought in the Chancery Division including the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court or the County Court at hearing centres that are attached to a Chancery District Registry.

Further Information

Jane Lambert
Jane Lambert
Jane Lambert
Jane Lambert
Jane Lambert


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