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Hypatia Project: Copyright Guidance: Basic Copyright Facts

An introductory guide about copyright issues relating to the digitisation of print materials

The Law

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 sets out the law governing UK copyright. Various amendments have been made to the Act since 1988, in order to reflect changes in society and technology, and these changes have been incorporated into the provisions of the Act.  

The Library has many print and electronic books on this subject if you would like to explore it in more detail. 

  • Literary works
    • e.g.books, poems, journal articles, song lyrics, leaflets, manuals, tables, computer programs, databases, website content
  • Dramatic works
    • e.g.plays, dance
  • Musical  works
    • e.g.musical scores, sheet music and other musical notation
  • Artistic Works
    • e.g.photographs, painting, maps, diagrams, paintings, sculpture etc.
  • Films
    • e.g.feature and animated films, home videos, video footage
  •  Broadcasts
    • e.g. tv and cable programmes, podcasts, online seminars
  • Sound Recordings
    • e.g any recorded sounds such as speeches, performances, songs, pieces of music 
  • Typographical arrangements of published works
    • e.g. the typeset, format and layout of books and journal articles etc.

A work can be subject to multiple copyrights at the same time.  For example, books may be subject to copyright in:

  • literary content (text)
  • artistic works (book covers, illustrations, photographs, diagrams etc)
  • typographical arrangement (text layout on the page)

 

  • Copyright arises automatically on creation of the work and does not need to be registered in order to provide legal protection. 
  • Creators can mark their copyright material using the international copyright symbol (c) , followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication, e.g. (c) Jones 2015
  • Under UK law this marking is not essential for legal protection. However, it can help those who wish to use the creator's work to trace them and request permission to reuse the material. It may also assist the copyright owner in the event of pursuing infringement proceedings for unauthorised use of their material. It is necessary to have included the mark in order to enforce copyright in certain other jurisdictions, where copyright law differs from the UK
  • Copyright protection is not unlimited and will expire after a period which gives the creator time to exploit their work.This period differs for the various types of copyright work.  
  • 25 years - for typographical arrangements, dated from publication
  • 50 years - for sound recordings and broadcasts, dated from the end of the year in which it was made
  • 70 years - for artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works, dated from the death of the author/creator
  • 70 years - for films, dated from the death of the last to survive of director/author/composer

The creator of the work in question is usually the copyright owner. However:

  • copyright can be sold or assigned to other people; for example, when a researcher writes an article and assigns copyright to a publisher
  • copyright in work created by an employee in the course of their usual work will usually belong to the employer
  • for commissioned work, the copyright will normally be owned by the third party that is commissioned to undertake the work, unless this is specified in the commission contract

In the case of books there may be multiple copyright owners whose rights you need to consider:

  • the publisher will own typographical copyright in the work.  They may also hold literary and artistic copyright in the work - this will depend on the book contract and whether the creators of the content (author/illustrator/photographer/designer etc) assigned their rights to the publisher;
  • the author will own literary copyright as the creator of the content.  However, they may assign this copyright to the publisher as part of the publishing contract for the book;
  • other contributors such as photographers, designers, illustrators etc. will own artistic copyright as creators of the content.  However, as with the literary content this may or may not be assigned to the publisher as part of the contracts for the work.

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • copy the work;
  • issue copies of the work to the public;
  • rent or lend the work to the public;
  • perform, show or play the work in public;
  • communicate the work to the public (includes making material available online or broadcasting it);
  • make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

However, copyright does not last forever so consider whether the work you wish to use is out of copyright.

And, copyright is only infringed if you use a 'substantial part' of the copyright work. Insubstantial parts can be used without infringinging the owner's rights.

Remember that copyright protection does not last forever. If you are using historic material then it may not longer be protected. Differing copyright durations apply to different forms of work:

  • 25 years - for typographical arrangements, dated from publication
  • 50 years - for sound recordings and broadcasts, dated from the end of the year in which it was made
  • 70 years - for artistic, dramatic, literary and musical works, dated from the death of the author/creator
  • 70 years - for films, dated from the death of the last to survive of director/author/composer

You should remember, however, that the different forms of copyright are distinct from one another.  For example, typographical copyright is distinct from the author's copyright in the text itself.  Typographical copyright covers the layout/arrangement of the text so it can exist even where the literary copyright in the work has long since expired - e.g. a new edition of one of Shakespeare's plays.  If you wished to reuse material from a Shakespeare play or a Dickens novel, you would need to consider whether the copy you wish to reuse was published within the last 25 years.

A typographical arrangement that simply reproduces a previous edition (e.g. a reprint) will not acquire a fresh 25 year copyright protection.

Copyright is infringed only when a 'substantial part' of a work is copied or used in any other way that is within the exclusive rights of the owner, such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the protected work, or to make derivative works.

This means you can use insubstantial parts without infringing copyright. Unfortunately there is no magic formula available to help you weigh up what is a substantial versus an insubstantial part and it will vary in each circumstance. Substantial part is not defined in the Act, but has been interpreted by the courts from a qualitative, not just a quantitative viewpoint.

Therefore a small portion of a work could be found to be substantial, depending on the particular facts in question.  For example, an executive summary of a long report could be considered substantial, even though it may be short when compared to the work as a whole, as it can encapsulates the key findings from the report, and may act as a substitute for the full report for some users, and affect the creator's right to income from their creative endeavours.

In the case of using images, photographs, illustrations etc. it is often the case that you wish to reuse/reproduce the whole of the item, so that the substantial part question does not arise.

If in doubt it is advisable to err on the side of caution and seek permission to use the material rather than 'hope' you can argue the material is an insubstantial part at a later date.

Owing to the uncertainty in this area, it can be more useful to look at the fair dealing provisions that the law provides for those who wish to make use of a substantial part of a work.

And if the fair dealing provisions do not apply to your use of the materials, then you will need to seek permission.

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