What is meant by Copyright?

This article explores what is meant by Copyright and how the benefit of a copyright in your lifetime can be dealt with in your Will.

Sindy Allen avatar
Written by Sindy Allen
Updated over a week ago

In its simplest term, if you have the benefit of a copyright, you have and own a type of intellectual property that protects your original work which may be a design or an idea for instance from being used by anyone else without your express Agreement. It provides you with the exclusive right to copy, distribute, adapt, display and where relevant to perform creative work that has been produced by you. It prevents any one else from reproducing your work without your consent.

Copyright is one of four main areas of intellectual property which also covers how patents work, designs, and trademarks.

However, where you have designed a product for instance, that single item can actually be covered by all four main areas: for example, a new lock mechanism could be covered by a patent for the mechanism, by a design for the appearance given to the outside, by a trade mark for a logo and by copyright for the installation instructions. So it is important to know and understand if you have the benefit of a copyright, but also whether you also have the benefit or other forms of intellectual property.

So, in essence, copyright is a legal right, which protects the copyright owner and/or the creator of a work. Copyright gives the owner control over their work and how it is used. Normally, copyright protects a work created by an author. Owners of copyright can use, sell or license a work (to a third party). The work must have some skill, labour or judgement in the creation to qualify as being something that can have the benefit of copyright, as well as being original.

What does copyright protect? Who Owns It?

So, having a copyright in place protects your work and stops others from using that work without your express permission.

The 'author' of a copyright will be the person who has created the work and that can be one person or could be more than one, in which case there will be joint ownership. In that instance it is important that this is made clear in any Agreement and again in the context of Will writing that the Will writer understands the ownership, how that is apportioned and what the Agreement sets out in the event of one/ both of the owners passing away.

Can I give my Copyright away either in my lifetime or in my Will?

As soon as the work has been 'created' and is original the copyright will exist and belong to the person who has created it. On that basis it is highly advisable to keep records and evidence of any materials and works created in the event you did at any point need to consider any breach of copyright. The reason being that there is no requirement to register a copyright.

However, any person in this position is highly advised to mark any copyright material when it is published with the international copyright symbol followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. This does enable you to 'evidence ownership' or someone on your behalf to do so for instance on/ after death.

Copyright is a property right that can be bought, sold, inherited, transferred and this can be in full or part for instance. So, the existence of such needs to be made known to your Will writer as that can be gifted to someone else post your passing. However, this does not extend to or include what is known as a 'moral right'.

A 'Moral right' - will remain the property of the original author and cannot pass to their estate on death. A copyright benefit may transfer to another person but the 'moral right' will not and this is an important distinction to make.

A moral right is the collection of personal rights which are given specifically to authors of literature, drama, music and other artistic works such as directors of films. It is in essence the:

  • right to be identified as the author/ director when a piece of wor is published

  • the right to object to any negative use of their work;

  • the right not to have copies of their work issued to the public.

Examples of copyright?

There are certain categories of works that are protected by copyright such as sounds recordings which can include films and broadcasts for instance; computer programs; original artistic works including music, literature; databases which can be in addition to the computer programs and also provide a restriction on where certain published editions of works can be used.

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