Copyright law and registration

Songwriters - Composers - Authors

Register the copyrights of your Songs, music and lyrics online or by post with
Songrite at the Copyright Registration Office

To register copyright ownership of all original works, please visit our sponsor and see how easy and cost effective it is to register the copyright ownership of your songs, music, lyrics, poems etc. We can register the copyrights of intellectual property and all original works from single compositions to complete albums. Songrite Copyright Registration Office. 

Benefits of copyright protection

Copyright is essentially a private right. You, the copyright owner must decide how to exploit your copyright work and how to enforce your copyright. A copyright owner can decide whether or not there will be any use of the copyright work falling within the scope of the economic rights and, if so, whether he or she will use the copyright work and/or license one or more other people to use the work.

A copyright owner can also benefit from copyright by selling or agreeing a transfer of copyright to someone else.

Many of the options available to a copyright owner will involve contractual agreements which may be just as important as the rights provided by copyright law. The right contractual agreement can minimise the chances of a dispute over use of your copyright work.

To help protect your copyright work, it is advisable to mark it with the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year of publication. Although this is not essential, it will let others know when the term of protection started and hence whether it is still covered by copyright, and indicate who to approach should they need to ask permission to use the work.

What is copyright?

Copyright protects creative or artistic works. You should only copy or use a copyrighted work with the copyright owner's permission.

Copyright protects:

  • literature, including novels, instruction manuals, computer programs, song lyrics, newspaper articles, website content and some types of database

  • drama, including dance or mime

  • music

  • art, including paintings, engravings, photographs, sculptures, collages, architecture, technical drawings, diagrams, maps and logos

  • layouts used to publish a work, for a book

  • recordings of a work, including sound and film

  • broadcasts of a work

Copyright applies to any medium. This means that you must not reproduce copyright protected work in another medium without permission. This includes, publishing photographs on the internet, making a sound recording of a book, and so on.

Copyright does not protect ideas for a work. However, when an idea is fixed, for example in writing, copyright automatically protects it. This means that you do not have to apply for copyright.

A copyright protected work can have more than one copyright, or another intellectual property right, connected to it. For example, an album of music can have separate copyrights for individual songs, sound recordings, artwork, and so on, whilst, copyright protects the artwork of your logo, but you could also register the logo as a trade mark.

Original works

A work can only be original if it is the result of independent creative effort. It will not be original if it has been copied from something that already exists. If it is similar to something that already exists but there has been no copying from the existing work either directly or indirectly, then it may be original.

The term "original" also involves a test of substantiality - literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works will not be original if there has not been sufficient skill and labour expended in their creation. But, sometimes significant investment of resources without significant intellectual input can still count as sufficient skill and labour.

Ultimately, only the courts can decide whether something is original.

There is much case law indicating, for example, that names and titles do not have sufficient substantiality to be original and that, where an existing work is widely known, it will be difficult to convince a court that there has been no copying if your work is very similar or identical.

Works that are not required to be original

Sound recordings, films and published editions do not have to be original but they will not be new copyright works if they have been copied from existing sound recordings, films and published editions.

Broadcasts do not have to be original, but there will be no copyright, if, or to the extent that, they infringe copyright in another broadcast.

Copyright applies to…Music

Copyright applies to music when it is recorded, either by writing it down or in any other manner. With a song there will usually be more than one copyright associated with it. If you are the composer of the music you will be the author of the musical work and will have copyright in that music. The lyrics of a song are protected separately by copyright as a literary work. The person who writes the lyrics will own the copyright in the words.

If your work is subsequently recorded the sound recording will also have copyright protection. The producer of the recording will own the copyright in the sound recording.

Composers of music may also have moral rights in their work.

Copyright is like any form of physical property in that you can buy it, sell it, inherit or otherwise transfer it, wholly or in part. Therefore, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than you, the first owner.

Copyright Record for recording copyright ownership

Music Directory a source of websites connected with music

Copyright applies to…computing and the internet

Copyright applies to computing and the internet in the same way as material in other media. For example, any photographs you place on the internet will be protected in the same way as other artistic works; any original written work will be protected as a literary work, and so on.

Downloads and uploads

If you download, distribute or put material on the internet that belongs to others you should ensure that you have the owners permission, unless any of the exceptions apply.


Databases may receive copyright protection for the selection and arrangement of the contents. In addition, or instead, database right may exist in a database. This is an automatic right and protects databases against the unauthorised removal and re-use of the contents of the database.

Computer programs

Computer programs and games for games consoles are protected on the same basis as literary works.

Conversion of a program into or between computer languages and codes corresponds to adapting a work. Storing any work in a computer amounts to copying the work. In addition, running a computer program or displaying work on a video display unit (VDU) will usually involve copying and thus require the consent of the copyright owner.

Copyright applies to…written work

Copyright applies to original written work such as novels, newspaper articles, lyrics for songs, instruction manuals and so on. These are known as literary works. Copyright in a literary work lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

There is no copyright in a name, title, slogan or phrase. But these may be eligible for registration as a trade mark, or a common-law action to prevent passing-off may give protection for unregistered trade marks. However, logos may be protected under copyright as artistic works and many trade marks may therefore also be copyright works.

Published editions

Published editions of literary works such as magazines, anthologies of poems and so on, where there may be more than one copyright owner, may afford copyright protection in their own right for the typographical arrangement of the edition. Copyright in your typographical edition lasts for 25 years.

You may need to get permission from a copyright owner if you wish to copy written work in any way, for example, photocopying, reproducing a printed page by handwriting or typing or scanning into a computer; or rent or lend books and so on, to the public, unless any exceptions apply.

Copyright Creation How to copyright register your work

Copyright applies to…theatre

Copyright applies to any original live theatrical performance such as ballet, opera, plays, musicals, pantomimes and so on.

In ballet, for instance, if the choreography of the dance has been recorded in writing or filmed, the dramatic performance of the dance itself would be entitled to copyright. As would any musical scores used, scripts, stage directions, and even any artwork on the set design.

The performers of the play or ballet and so on could also afford protection as would any film or audio recording of the performance.

As with any other form of copyright work, if you wish to reproduce or perform a play or musical production, you should first seek permission from the copyright owners of any written work, music, recorded dance steps and so on.

Theatrical performances within schools

Within schools, if the performance or concert is only being watched by teachers and pupils as part of the activities of the school then you do not need permission from the copyright owner(s). This falls within the scope of one of the exceptions copyright.

However, if parents are invited to watch the performance or concert, then you probably will need permission, unless you use only old material in which copyright has expired, such as Shakespeare's plays or Mozart's music.

Copyright applies to…TV and Films

For TV productions and films, copyright may exist on a number of its components, for example, the original screenplay, the music score and so on. If you produced the TV show or film then you would normally obtain the rights to, or gain permission to use, the works required to make the production.

A recording of a broadcast does not infringe copyright if it is made in your own home to watch later. For any other use you may need the permission for the rights holder, unless copyright exceptions apply.

Broadcasts, which may be transmitted by cable or wireless means, including satellite broadcasts, but excluding most transmissions on the internet, afford copyright protection in addition to any copyright in the content of broadcasts such as films, music and literary material. Copyright in a broadcast expires after 50 years

Copyright applies to…Art

Copyright applies to original artistic works such as paintings, drawings, engravings, sculptures, photographs, diagrams, maps, works of architecture and works of artistic craftsmanship.

So, for example, cartoon characters may have copyright protection and if you wish to copy the characters onto cakes, wallpaper and so on, you will almost certainly need a licence to do this to avoid infringing copyright.

If you wish to use or copy copyright protected artistic works you may need the permission for the rights holder, unless copyright exceptions apply.

As for drawing of articles to be mass-produced, there will only be copyright in the article made to the design in the drawing if the article itself is an artistic work, including something that could be called a work of artistic craftsmanship.

However, design right protection might exist for such an industrially produced item even if there is no copyright and applying for a registered design is another possibility.

If you want to reproduce existing Royal emblems such as Coats of Arms on any souvenirs, you will need permission from the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

Duration and ownership

The creator of the work will be the author and first owner and copyright will last for life of the author plus 70 years.

Copyright is, however, a form of intellectual property which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. So, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner.

Copyright applies to…spoken word

There is no copyright in speech unless and until it is recorded. If your speech is recorded, either in writing or by other means such as by electronic means, then the words of your speech will be protected as a literary work. Copyright protection would then last for life of the author plus 70 years.

If you perform a dramatic work, such as a play, or record your performance on an audio cassette or CD you may also be entitled to performer's rights

Songade copyright laws.

Infringing other people's copyright

Infringement of copyright occurs where either the whole or a substantial part of a work is used without permission, unless the copying falls within the scope of one of the copyright exceptions. The term substantial part is not defined under copyright law but has been interpreted by the courts to mean a significant part of the work.  This does not mean, however, that it needs to be a large part of the work.

Copyright gives the creators of a wide range of material, such as literature, art, music, sound recordings, films and broadcasts, economic rights. It does not protect ideas, or such things as names or titles.

Authors are able to control use of their material in a number of ways, such as:

  • making copies
  • issuing copies to the public
  • performing in public
  • broadcasting and use on-line

It also gives moral rights to be identified as the creator of certain kinds of material, and to object to distortion or mutilation of it.

The purpose of copyright is to allow creators to gain economic rewards for their efforts and so encourage future creativity and the development of new material which benefits us all. Copyright material is usually the result of creative skill and/or significant labour and/or investment, and without protection, it would often be very easy for others to exploit material without paying the creator.

Most uses of copyright material therefore require permission from the copyright owner. However there are exceptions to copyright, so that some minor uses may not infringe copyright.


Copyright exists in your original music composition or score for your life plus 70 years from the end of the year of your death. The same length of time applies for the lyrics, whereas the sound recording only lasts for 50 years from the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 50 years from the end of the year of publication. If not published during that 50 year period, but it is played in public or communicated to the public during that period, then copyright will last for 50 years from when this happens.

Copyright Symbol

It is strongly recommended that you mark your copyright work clearly with the copyright symbol © followed by your name and the first date of publication e.g. © Paul Joby 2007.

Copyright Upload .> uploading your work direct for copyright registration

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