Skip to content Skip to footer
Enquiries Call 0800 652 8025
Team examining designs

Copyright law

Protecting your copyright

Copyright includes the rights to prevent others from copying, adapting or performing your works, and the right to control the first communication of your works to the public.

Copyright can subsist in a wide range of works, which the UK’s Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 groups into

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • Sound recordings, films or broadcasts
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions.

There are also “related rights” such as rights in performances.

Computer software is treated as a “literary work” for these purposes, whereas architectural works come under “artistic” works, as do “works of artistic craftsmanship” such as the Barcelona chair or the Philippe Starck lemon-squeezer. Video games are included within “films”.

If something can be recorded or “fixed” in any reproducible form, generally it is capable of being a copyright work.

To be protectable, a work has to be “original”. The bar for originality is set quite low; it is completely different from the requirements for “novelty” and “lack of obviousness” required for patent protection.

Copyright only protects the form in which a work is expressed, not the idea underlying it. For example, if you publish a recipe book, those recipes attract copyright, but someone making a lemon drizzle cake to your recipe is not infringing your rights. Furthermore, if someone is inspired by your lemon drizzle cake recipe to create their own and write it down, it is unlikely their recipe will infringe copyright in yours.

Copyright infringement

Copyright is infringed by doing one of the acts reserved to the copyright owner, without the owner’s permission or without another lawful reason. This includes copying the work in whole or in “substantial part”. Because running a computer program or reading an ebook involves the creation of transient copies, this means that the unauthorised downloading or sharing of digital media constitutes copyright infringement.

Other acts of infringement include making unauthorised adaptations or translations of copyright works, performing copyright works in public without the permission of the rights’ holder and selling or supplying infringing copies.

Copyright infringement cases can be brought in the High Court or the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

Questions of intellectual property infringement raise numerous technical issues, so any threat of infringement needs to be referred to a specialist copyright lawyer.

Unregistered design rights

Unregistered design right is similar to copyright in that it arises from the act of creation of a design. It protects the shape and configuration of the design of 3D objects against copying by others. Again, like copyright, the first owner of UK unregistered design right is the creator of the design, unless the design is created in the process of a person’s employment in which case the owner is the employer.

Contact a copyright lawyer

We offer a full service contentious and non-contentious copyright service, dealing with all aspects of copyright exploitation and enforcement. For copyright licensing and protection enquiries contact Sarah Coe and for copyright disputes and other contentious issues contact Richard Moore.

Clarke Willmott has offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton and we provide IP advice both to clients located within the UK and around the world.

Your key contacts

Sarah Coe


Bristol and London
Sarah is a Partner in the Corporate Commercial team, specialising in commercial, intellectual property, and technology law. Her work covers the full range of contractual and e-commerce issues relevant to businesses seeking to enter new markets or exploit new technology.
View profile for Sarah Coe >

More on this topic


Intellectual property rights in Formula One

As Formula One fans gear up for the start of the new Grand Prix season in Bahrain this weekend, it is crucial to understand how valuable intellectual property (IP) protection is within the sport.
Read more on Intellectual property rights in Formula One
Intellectual property

“Burst of activity” around iconic Disney brand in 2024

With AI image generation and the immediate dissemination of shared images online, this year will see a “burst of activity” following the expiry of copyright protection around Disney’s iconic Mickey Mouse character
Read more on “Burst of activity” around iconic Disney brand in 2024
Services for business

Disruptive Asset Finance

Welcome to the latest edition of Disruptive Asset Finance, keep up to date with news and insights from specialists across the business
Read more on Disruptive Asset Finance
Services for business

Trade mark makes sense for Harry and Meghan podcast

Kate Cheney, the director of trade marks in our intellectual property team, who helps identify, protect, and exploit intellectual property, says a registered trade mark is an asset that should be protected against potential misuse by others.
Read more on Trade mark makes sense for Harry and Meghan podcast

Looking for legal advice?