Skip to Main Content

Copyright Guide: Introduction

A practical guide on copyright and licensing issues aimed at staff, students and researchers at the University of Sussex

Introduction to copyright

What can I copy? How can I use it?

Copyright gives legal protection to the creators of certain kinds of work so that they can control the way they may be exploited. Copyright law in the UK is governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended. Under the Act, copyright subsists in the following works:
  • Literary works, which includes song lyrics, tables, street directories and letters as well as literature in the more commonly accepted sense of the term. Computer programs are also included in the category of literary works.
  • Dramatic works, including dance and mime.
  • Musical works.
  • Artistic works, including graphic works, sculptures, maps, photographs (irrespective of artistic quality), architecture and works of artistic craftsmanship.
  • Sound recordings.
  • Films, including videos.
  • Broadcasts, including cable programmes.
  • Published editions, i.e. the typographical layout of a literary dramatic or musical work. So, the content of a recently published edition of a work written many years ago could be out of copyright, but the 'typographical arrangement' would not.
Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation or production; you do not have to 'register' a work to acquire copyright protection for it. However the work must be recorded in writing or some other material form (there is no copyright in ideas), it must be original, and it must be the product of sufficient expenditure of time, talent or money to make the outcome worthy of protection: there is no copyright in the merely trivial.
  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Copyright expires 70 years after the end of the year of the author's death. If there is no known author, copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or 70 years from when the work was first made available to the public.
  • Films. Copyright expires 70 years after the death of the last to die of the following: principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue or the composer of the music created for and used in the film.
  • Sound recordings. Copyright expires 50 years after the end of the year in which they were made or, if published in this time, from the date of release. Duration of copyright in Sound Recordings will be extended to 70 years from 1st November 2013 when the Copyright and Duration of Rights in Performances Regulations 2013 will come into force.
  • Broadcasts. Copyright expires 50 years after the end of the year in which they were first broadcast.
  • Typographical arrangements of published works. Copyright expires 25 years after the end of the year in which the edition was first published.

For further guidance on the duration of copyright, please see the IPO Notice - Duration of Copyright  

The Act specifies who is the first owner at the time of creation or production. Copyright can be assigned by the owner to another. For example, it it is not unusual for the author of an article in a journal to assign her or his copyright to the publisher of the journal.
  • Literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works: The author/creator
  • Sound recordings and film: The person by whom the arrangements were made for making the item (financier, entreprenuer, producer, etc.)
  • Broadcasts: Generally those responsible for the transmission
  • Published editions: The Publisher
In accordance with the Patents Act 1977 and the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988, Intellectual Property (including copyright)  generated through the course of employment in research, teaching and other related activities, legally belongs to the employer (subject to third party rights).
  • Unless specifically agreed otherwise, the University does not claim its rights of copyright in books or articles for learned journals written by members of staff or students. In general, the University preserves the rights of staff and students to publish material arising from their research as they see fit. However, in some cases where commercial exploitation of the results is a possibility, the University may require the author(s) to withhold publication until appropriate protection can be put in place.
  • The University does claim ownership in all other forms of IP, including other forms of copyright (e.g. software and its documentation, distance learning material, e-learning material, web site content, recordings).
  • In relation to teaching material other than any specifically commissioned by the University, the University grants the individual who created the material a personal, royalty-free, non-transferable, right to use and copy such material for academic purposes whether or not the creator is still at or employed by the University.
  • Student ownership of Intellectual Property. In general, students own the IP that they generate, as they are not employees, and the University does not exercise any such conditions as part of registration. Students have the option to assign their ownership rights to the University of the IP they generate whilst at the University, and are generally required to do so if they wish to receive support from the University in exploiting their IP.
Please refer to the University's Policy on Exploitation and Commercialisation of Intellectual Property for further details.

Introduction to UK copyright law

Introduction to UK copyright law video

A short video explaining the basics of UK copyright law, introducing key concepts and issues for using copyright material.

Created for the  University of Bournemouth, Centre for Intellectual Property and Policy Management (CIPPM)  by Bartolomeo Meletti with support from the Department of Law at Bournemouth University.

Duration of copyright in sound recordings

In September 2011, the EU approved a directive which will extend the copyright term for sound recordings and performers' rights in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.  The Directive must be implemented into UK law by 1st November 2013 and the Copyright and Duration of Rights in Performance Regulations will come into force on that date.  Note that the extension of the term of protection will apply only to those sound recordings that are in copyright on 1st November 2013.  The Regulations do not have the effect of bringing back into copyright those sound recordings where copyright has expired.  Visit the Intellectual Property Office website for further information.


The information contained within these pages is intended as a general guide and an interpretation of current copyright issues. It is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.



Copyright question mark image

Creative Commons License
Image created by Malcolm J Moore (2018) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Further guidance

Getting help

 For help with general queries about copying  from print, audiovisual or electronic publications, please email