What are the Copyright Laws in the UK?

Copyright laws are important not only for protecting a person’s rights to their own intellectual property, but also for those who want to use another’s intellectual property in a fair and reasonable manner.

In this article, we discuss current UK copyright law, how to protect yourself from copyright infringement, and what to do if someone uses your work without permission. We also go over areas of copyright law that might change in the future, based off of current developments.

If you’ve created something original, copyright law in the UK protects your work from being used or reproduced without your permission (with certain exceptions). If you’re a copyright owner and you haven’t given permission for others to use your work, they cannot:

  • Copy the work.
  • Sell or distribute free copies of the work.
  • Rent or lend the work.
  • Perform or broadcast the work.
  • Adapt the work.
  • Upload the work to the internet.

That said, some uses are considered to be fair under the law. ‘Fair dealing’ acts that do not infringe upon your copyright include those that are for:

  • Private study or research.
  • Criticism (e.g. parts reproduced for reviews, news reporting, caricature, or parody).
  • Educational purposes (e.g. borrowing, lending, copying, and performance for teaching).
  • Incidental inclusion (i.e. your work was non-deliberately included in another’s work).
  • Time shifting (i.e. recording a broadcast or programme for later consumption).
  • Library copies for lending.
  • Back-up copies created for personal use.
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What is protected under copyright law?

Generally speaking, any work that is original and “exhibits a degree of skill, labour or judgement” is protected by copyright law, regardless of how they’ve been published (e.g. hard copy, internet, etc.).

This includes:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic work.

  • Web content, software, databases, and other non-literary written work.

  • Recordings and broadcasts, including sound, music, film, and television.

  • Layout and arrangements for published editions of written, musical, or dramatic works.

  • Some things, such as ideas and names, cannot be copyrighted. Names, catchphrases and slogans can be trademarked, and some ideas (e.g. inventions) can be patented, but copyright will not protect these ideas or prevent others from using them.

Visit GOV.UK to see how long copyright usually lasts.

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How do I copyright my work?

In the UK, you don’t have to pay a fee or register your work to have it copyrighted. Once you’ve created an original work, it’s automatically protected under copyright law.

Copyright normally belongs to the individual(s) who created the work, but if a work is created for an employer as part of a job, then copyright will often belong to that employer. This does not usually apply to freelance or commissioned work, unless an agreement transfers copyright.

If you wish to deter plagiarism, show that your work is copyrighted, or identify yourself as the copyright owner, you can mark your work with the copyright symbol (©) or request a copyright notice from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Note that neither of these actions are legally required, however.

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What do I do if someone uses my work without permission?

There are three steps you should take if you suspect that someone is infringing upon your copyright:

1. Try to get the other party to stop using your intellectual property.

Sometimes the person using your intellectual property may not realise that you own the rights. You should check the licenses register to see if someone else has licensed your work. If they’re in the process of applying for a license, you can apply to have this application stopped.

2. Use mediation to resolve the dispute.

If you have a dispute about licensing or if you need help mediating the dispute, contact a solicitor that specialises in intellectual property. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) also offers a mediation service:

IPO mediation service: mediation@ipo.gov.uk

Telephone: 0300 300 2000

3. Take legal action.

If a dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, you can file legal proceedings through the courts or through IPO. The court you go to depends on the value of your claim and the nature of the infringement. You can find more about how to defend your intellectual property on GOV.UK.

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The changing landscape of UK copyright law


Brexit will have a significant impact on UK copyright law, though to an extent that is still being seen. Now that the UK has fully transitioned out of the European Union, the EU’s 11 directives and two regulations on copyright law will no longer be mandated. That said, these laws are integrated in in UK legislation and will continue to apply for as long as they aren’t revoked.

Artificial intelligence

The emergence of artificial intelligence, and its easy accessibility for users via apps like ChatGPT, has stoked a national conversation about originality and property rights. While there have been no changes to UK copyright legislation as a result of the popularity of media-generative AI, there is ongoing legislation that could impact it in the future. Individuals who regularly use AI for media generation purposes should therefore keep an eye on the changing UK copyright landscape to ensure they remain within the law.

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Professional liability insurance from Towergate

General liability policies only cover you against things like injury, negligence, and property damage. To protect yourself against copyright infringement claims, you need Professional Indemnity Insurance. Professional liability insurance is the best way to protect your business against accidental use of another’s copyrighted material. And even if you’re not personally concerned about copyright infringement, a comprehensive package will protect your business should another (e.g. a freelancer or subcontractor you hire) fall afoul of a copyright claim.

Copyright can be a confusing world to navigate, with lots of grey area, but it’s still important to make sure that your actions lay on the right side of the law – and that’s where professional liability insurance comes in. Call Towergate on 0344 892 1750 to speak to one of our specialist advisers.

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About the author

Alison Wild Bcom Hons MAAT MATT Taxation Technician Commercial Tax Pensions Insurance And Marketing Specialist AuthorAlison Wild BCom (Hons), MAAT, MATT, Taxation Technician is a highly respected industry professional who has been working with and advising SMEs in areas including tax, pensions, insurance and marketing for over 25 years. She is a member of the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) and Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) and also has 20 years' experience as a residential landlord.