Copyright for your business

What does copyright cover?


If your business produces any of the following, they will automatically be protected by copyright once they are 'fixed' in some way, eg written or recorded:

  • literary works, including books, webpages, computer programs and instruction manuals
  • dramatic and musical works, including the music to songs
  • artistic works, including technical drawings, photographs, diagrams and maps
  • films, videos and broadcasts, including those on cable and satellite
  • sound recordings
  • databases, whether paper or electronic
  • typographical arrangement or layout of publications

Copyright covers every medium in which work exists, including the internet.

What copyright doesn't cover

Copyright does not protect:

Business-created work and copyright

Your business owns the copyright in works created by your employees, but contractors typically own the copyright in any work they create for your organisation unless you agree otherwise - see more on contractors and copyright.

Automatic right

Unlike most other intellectual property rights, copyright does not require registration. It is an automatic right once your work is 'fixed'.

How long does copyright last?

The period of protection varies according to the type of copyright work. When and where it was created may also be important. In the UK:

  • copyright protection for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works generally lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years after their death
  • copyright in film lasts for 70 years after the death of the last of the following persons: the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue or composer of the music
  • copyright in sound recordings and broadcasts lasts for 50 years from the date they were made
  • copyright for the typographical arrangement of publications lasts for 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition was first published

Copyright protection may last less in other countries. For artistic works, this is usually not less than the life of the artist plus 50 years.

The Intellectual Property Office has issued a copyright notice on the duration of copyright. This notice explains how long the copyright lasts in new and existing works.

Protecting material connected with copyrighted material

You may have files, research and development documentation or accounts that don't qualify for copyright, but could be connected with the particular copyright material you develop. You could consider registering them on an unofficial copyright register.

Moral rights

As well as copyright, authors also have moral rights to their work. Moral rights mean you:

  • can object to distortions of your work
  • have the right to be identified as the author of your work (provided you have clearly declared you want that right)

However, there are certain situations where moral rights may not apply. The right to be identified as author does not apply to anything done by the copyright owner where the copyright in the work was originally owned by the author's employer. In addition, authors of computer programs or material to be used in newspapers, magazines or in reference works can't claim either of the above moral rights in those works.

See more on managing your copyright.