Copyright is a legal concept created specifically to give the creators of an original piece of work exclusive rights to its ownership and usage. The term generally means “the right to copy”, but intentionally gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work. Ultimately, the copyright holder has the right to determine who may publicly broadcast the work, who may adapt the work to other forms, who may copy the work, and who may financially benefit from the work.
In order to qualify for copyright law protection the work must meet a minimal standard of originality. Although standards differ in different countries, the general requirements are quite low. The United Kingdom’s Copyright requirement states that there has to be some ‘Skill, labour, and judgement’ to be included in the work. Rather than being based on whether the piece of work is unique, the Copyright Law accepts the right of the original author on whether the work is an original creation instead. This specific point in the law enables two authors to own first copyright on two substantially identical works as long as the replication of the works is coincidental rather than intentionally copied.
The 1988 Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act states that Copyright ownership ensures several exclusive rights are given to the first copyright holder. If an original work is under copyright, it is an offence for an additional party to:
- Adapt the work
- To produce copies or reproductions of the work
- Import or Export the work
- Rent, lend, or issue copies of the work to the public
- Perform, broadcast, or show the work publicly.
The phrase “exclusive right” means that only the copyright holder of the work is free to carry out the actions mentioned above. “Fair dealing” is a term which is used to describe the acts which are permitted to a certain degree without infringing the copyright protection of the work. Some “fair dealing” acts include:
- Criticism and news reporting
- Private and research study purposes
- Copies, renting and lending by librarians
- Performance, copies, or lending for educational purposes
- “Time shifting”, a term referring to the recording of broadcasts for the purposes of viewing or listening to them at a more convenient time
- Producing a personal back up copy of a computer program for personal use.
The 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act states that the individual or collective who authored the work is usually referred to as the “first owner of copyright”. However, if the piece of work is produced as part of employment, the company which serves as the employer of the individual who created the work will be granted the first ownership. Commissioned or freelance work will usually remain to the author of the work, unless the contract for service states otherwise. Just like other assets, the initial copyright holder holds the right to transfer or sell the copyright of their work to another party. Besides selling the copyright, the holder can also, if they are a photographer for example, choose to enable their work to be released as copyright free images and legally enable other parties to use and broadcast the work.
Rights cannot to be claimed for any part of a piece of work which is a copy taken from a previous work, unless the work is stated to be copyright free. For example, if a piece of art features samples from a previous work, (unless the samples are granted to be copyright free images,) they will still be under the copyright laws with the original creator, which means the adapted piece of work will be classed as copyright infringement.