Common questions about copyright

General points

  1. Can copyright be inherited?

    Yes. Just like any other asset, the rights to a copyright work can be inherited.

  2. What happens when a copyright expires?

    The work will fall into the public domain, making it available to anyone wishing to use, copy or reproduce the work. This is how so many companies can publish works by William Shakespeare, classical composers etc.

  3. What types of work are protected?

    Any literary, dramatic, design, musical or artistic work. So long as the work exhibits a degree of skill, labour or judgement.

  4. How long does copyright last?

    This will depend on the work and nationality, but typically the work will be protected for either, 70 years from the death of the author, or if published 70 years from the date of first publication.

  5. Does the nationality of the author matter?

    Under the terms of the Berne Convention, authors are automatically protected internationally, they may also enjoy additional rights as granted under national laws.

  6. Does format or quality of the work matter?

    The format of the work, i.e. Negatives or photographs, computer files or paper documents, does not matter, neither does the quality of the work.

Names, ideas and patents

  1. How do copyrights differ from patents?

    Patents apply to inventions or ideas, whilst copyright applies to written or recorded work.

    In the example of a document detailing an invention or idea, the patent protects the concept, idea or invention itself whereas copyright would protect the written document. An infringement would occur if the written description was copied, whilst a patent would protect the idea being put into use.

  2. Can a name, title or phrase be protected?

    Names, slogans, titles or phrases are not covered, although you may be able to apply for a trademark. Information about this can be found via the Intellectual Property Office, Cardiff Road, Newport, Gwent, We would also recommend that you seek legal advice before proceeding.

    Please see the page dealing with names, titles and copyright for more details.

  3. Are ideas covered?

    No, but dependent on what the idea is, i.e. an invention, it may be possible to apply for a patent. This is not a topic we deal with and you should contact the Intellectual Property Office, Cardiff Road, Newport, Gwent,

    Copyright does however protect the physical content of drawings, diagrams or plans for inventions but it cannot prevent the invention/idea from being used elsewhere.

Using the work of others

  1. Where can licence be obtained from?

    The CLA licences users copying extracts from books, journals and periodicals, and collects fees from licensed users to pay authors and publishers their shares of the copying fees. The CLA web site can be found at:

  2. Is a licence needed for the public performance of music?

    Yes, to obtain a performance licence contact PRS for Music:

  3. Is a licence needed to to show a film outside the home?

    Yes, unless you are an educational establishment, and are showing a film for purely educational purposes you will need a licence. The organisation Filmbank should be able to provide a licence:

    Alternatively, a list of links to organisations that represent owners of copyright in films can be found via the IP Portal:

  4. What about works which contains extracts, quotes etc?

    The copyright to any copied or quoted parts will remain with the original author. Permission should be sought from the original owner before using copied content in work that you produce.

  5. What about music which is made up of samples and loops of other songs?

    Although the arrangement itself may be original, you cannot claim copyright for any parts that are taken from any previous work. This means that although the work for the main part may be original, the parts which were copied from another track would still belong to the original author.You should certainly have permission from the original author of the samples before you consider publishing or broadcasting such a work.

Computer documents and the Internet

  1. Is work still protected on the Internet?

    It makes no difference how the work is stored or published, the law still applies.

  2. What about computer programs and material stored in computers?

    Computer programs are protected as literary works.

    Databases may receive protection for the selection and arrangement of the contents. Also database right may exist in a data itself. This is an automatic right and protects databases against the unauthorised extraction and re-utilisation of the contents of the database. Database right lasts for 15 years from the making but, if published during this time, then the term is 15 years from publication.

Linking to this page

If you find the information on this page useful, please feel free to link to this page, (no permission is needed). The easiest way is to simply copy and paste the following XHTML code into your web page.

The link will appear on your page as:

Common copyright questions page from the UK Copyright Service.