What is Copyright?

Copyright is governed in the U.K by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Copyright law first arose in England because book publishers were unable to protect their work from being copied, this led to the introduction of the Statute of Anne way back in 1709, so books were the first items to benefit from copyright protection. Over the years more items began to gain copyright protection including music, paintings, artistic sculptures and today an enormous amount of items including films, visual effects, computer games and mobile phones have copyright protection.

Copyright is a right that arises automatically in the sense that no formalities are required for the right to exist, however there are a number of requirements that need to be satisfied before copyright may subsist in a particular work.


The first requirement is that the work must be original and not copied from anything else. Originality in this context means originality of expression and form not idea or content, for example you cannot protect the idea of a social networking site i.e. Facebook but you can protect the way it looks, its features etc.

Minimum effort

The second is that there must be a minimum level of effort that has gone into a work, the amount of effort required is generally low. The exact amount depends on the category of the work as copyright is divided in to a number of categories, literary and artistic copyright are considered below: Literary works (books, databases, poems, computer programs etc) Any level of writing may attract copyright i.e. literary copyright may subsist in a school pupils essay or in a formal business letter, however single words are not likely to attract copyright protection. (They may get trademark protection).

Artistic works (These are sub- divided in to two categories)

  1. Works that are protected ‘irrespective of artistic quality’ (photographs, sculptures collages) The standard of effort for this type of copyright is relatively low for example a picture of a hand pointing (to guide people) has gained copyright protection.
  2. Works that require a degree of artistic quality (i.e. architecture, works of artistic craftsmanship) This is different to the above as the standard of effort required here could be described as something more than what is commonplace, i.e. a mass produced set of simple plain houses may not qualify for protection but a set of modern executive stylish homes might. A work of artistic craftsmanship is a three dimensional item which is not a sculpture but which results from a combination of artistry and craftsmanship i.e. a hand made violin. For a work of artistic craftsmanship a considerable degree of artistic merit is required before copyright protection will subsist.

Recorded form

The final requirement for a work to gain copyright protection is that it must be in a recorded form, i.e. written down or recorded on a computer. For most artistic works just the creation of them i.e. making a statue will satisfy the test of being in a recorded form.

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