Original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works (including computer programmes and databases), films, sound recordings, cable programmes, broadcasts and the typographical arrangement of published editions are automatically protected by copyright in the UK if they meet the legal requirements for protection. In general terms, copyright protection may also be given to works first published in (or, in the case of a broadcast or cable programmes, made in or sent from) EU member states, or from countries party to international copyright conventions, the World Trade Organisation, or reciprocal agreements.
Historically, copyright legislation in the UK has differed from some of mainland Europe by its greater emphasis on the “property” owner rather than the original creator. However, the adoption of legislation over the years, not least EU Directives, has been changing this. The copyright owner has rights against unauthorised reproduction, public performance, exhibitions, broadcasting, rental and lending to the public and adaptation of his or her work; and against importing, possessing, dealing with or providing means for unauthorised copies. In most cases the author is the first owner of the copyright, and the term of copyright in literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, photographs, digital images, etc. is generally the life of the author and a period of 70 years from the year in which he or she dies. For films, the term is generally 70 years and sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 50 years.
The Digital Britain report of 2009 suggested that the UK should become a ‘global centre for the creative industries in the digital age’. According to the report, key issues for the creative sector include support for content, intellectual property and the problem of internet piracy. To combat illegal downloading the intention is to create a clearer legal framework that establishes a payment-based model, and enables rights holders to pursue transgressions in the courts.
The Digital Economy Act 2017 is wide ranging in scope and includes provision for the electronic communications infrastructure and services, the protection of intellectual property and registered designs, and data sharing. It also confers powers to create an offence for breaking rules on internet and other ticket sales (i.e. secondary ticketing).
Droit de Suite (artist’s resale rights) was implemented into UK law in 2006. It was extended to the heirs and estates of deceased artists in 2012 (see chapter 4.2.4).
Since 1982, the Public Lending Right Scheme (PLR) has given registered authors, illustrators, translators, editors and photographers royalties from a central government fund for the loans made of their books from public libraries in the UK. Payment is made according to the number of times that author’s books are borrowed based on a sample survey (the rate per loan is 8.52 pence). Currently, over 22,000 individuals receive payments for PLR. The maximum an author can receive per year is GB£ 6,600. The scheme is administered by the British Library and from 2020 e-books and e-audio loans will be included.
The Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Act 2002 benefits visually impaired people who have difficulty accessing copyright material in the form in which it is published. Subject to certain conditions, they are able to make single accessible copies of copyright material, such as books, newspapers and instruction manuals, for their personal use without seeking permission from the copyright owners.
There are two types of design rights: the registered design right introduced by the Registered Designs Act 1949 and the unregistered design right introduced by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The former right provides up to 25 years protection, while the unregistered design right protects the shape of a three-dimensional design and the duration is limited to 10 years after it was first sold or 15 years after it was first created (whichever is the earliest). Some updating to registered design provision was made in the Digital Economy Act 2017.
Royalties from copyrighted work are an important generator of income for the UK, e.g. in 2018 it generated GB£ 746 million, an increase of 4.4% on 2017. GB£ 280 million of this figure was collected through reciprocal arrangements with collecting societies worldwide. Licensing bodies and collecting management organisations (CMOs) can agree licenses with users and collect royalties on behalf of users. The Collective Management of Copyright (EU Directive) Regulations 2016 govern the conduct of CMOs. In England and Wales (and the UK as a whole) there are one or more collecting societies for each of the arts and films sectors. These include:
- Performing Rights Society for Music (PRSS): manages the rights of composers, songwriters and publishers.
- Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL): manages the rights of record producers and performers.
- British Equity Collecting Society (BECS): is a CMO that collects revenue from the collective administration of its members’ (performers’) rights.
- Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS): distributes royalties to its members.
- Publishers’ Licensing Services (PLS): distributes royalties to publishers.
- Design and Artists’ Copyright Service (DACS): manages the licensing of visual artworks for uses such as print and online publications, broadcasts, etc.
- Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA): licenses on behalf of ACLS, PLS and DACS above (as well as the Picture Collecting Society for Effective Licensing).
- Artists Collecting Society (ALS): deals with the collection of artists’ resale rights and copyright on behalf of artists and/or their estates.
- Picture Industry Collecting Society for Effective Licensing (PICSEL): can represent visual works rights holders who license their work with a view to securing secondary rights.
- Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS): manages mechanical reproduction, distribution, import and synchronisation rights on behalf of music producers and songwriters.
- CreaCollect: grants licences for live performances, online streaming, mechanical reproduction, TV and radio broadcasting.
- Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC): issues licenses worldwide if the intention is to show one of its member’s films in a public forum.
The long-term impact of Brexit on the UK’s framework for intellectual property protection and registration is uncertain.