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UK Copyright Law & Legislation Made Simple

In the UK, copyright is a property right which vests in the author of original literary, dramatic, artistic or musical works. In the United Kingdom, there is no system available to register a copyright work for it to be protected. A work is said to attract copyright protection automatically upon its creation, but without registration, what proof can an individual have to show first ownership?


The Statute of Anne was the first British copyright law, enacted in 1709 and entering into force on April 10, 1710. This statute first accorded exclusive rights to authors rather than publishers, and it included protections for consumers of printed work ensuring that publishers could not control their use after sale. It also limited the duration of such exclusive rights to 28 years, after which all works would pass into the public domain. It is generally considered to be the first fully-fledged copyright law in the world.

It has been the long held view that that, for copyright, a scheme of compulsory registration before publication, such as exists in patent systems, is more trouble than it is worth; and under the current Berne system there is no registration of title at all.

But the English copyright registration system started by the Statute of Anne, and which survived in one form or another until 1912, was more flexible. Under the Copyright Act 1842 registration at Stationers' Hall was merely evidence of title, not proof; and there was no obligation to register unless one wanted to bring an action for infringement, in which case it was held to be sufficient to register before issuing the writ (Warne v Lawrence (1886) 54 LT 371).

Since the Statute of Anne almost three hundred years ago, countries like the United States have adopted the fundamental principles of English copyright law into their own copyright system. One crucial feature of US copyright law, which is noticeably absent and desperately needed in English law, is the concept of copyright registration.

In the United States, copyright registration is a legal formality intended to make a public record of the basic facts of a particular copyright. Although registration is not a requirement for protection, U.S. copyright law provides several advantages to encourage copyright owners to register their works such as:

Providing a public record of the copyright claim.
If registration made before or within 5 years of publication, it will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.

If registration is made within 3 months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney's fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies.

Registration in the U.S.A. may be made at any time within the life of the copyright. It is not necessary to make another registration when the work becomes published, although the copyright owner may register the published edition, if desired.

The United States is not the only country which offers copyright registration as a method of protection. Many other countries, for example Canada, India, Spain, the Philippines, and Denmark, acknowledge the copyright problems in today's world, and offer some process of registration as a formality intended to make a public record of the basic fact of a particular copyright which may serve to prove the existence of the work and its ownership.

Protect My Work or Poor Man's Copyright?

In the UK many authors adopt the sealed envelope approach and post their work back to themselves where it remains unopened. However is this suitable for your business? While sending the information back to your home is acceptable, where the work will have commercial value, it is in our view more appropriate to have your work formally recorded.

In a dispute concerning copyright ownership sadly though this can be seen as an amateurish way to establish ownership. Michael Coyle Solicitor and Director of Lawdit Solicitors an Intellectual Property practice, has encountered the problems with companies seeking to establish ownership.

"On at least two occasions client companies have failed in their attempts to assert ownership due to the lack of evidence as to 'who came first'. A service which provides both comfort and asserts ownership will prove to be invaluable" - Michael Coyle, Lawdit

Protect My Work satisfies the most important area of copyright dispute easily and cheaply. By registering your work with us, we date and time stamp it to show exactly when it was received, proving that the work was in existence at this time. Protect My Work has made the process as simple as possible, by making it possible for users to simply email their work, rather than be forced to visit the site, login and then upload the work. This ultimately saves time as lost passwords are always a big hassle!