The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (The Act) runs to more than 330 pages so one must accept the risks of a brief overview. In essence it gives certain right to the creators of certain material. These rights limit the freedom of others to copy, adapt, distribute, communicate to the public by electronic means, rent or lend to the public, perform in public, distort and mutilate matter subject to copyright. There is an additional right in many cases for the copyright owner to be acknowledged.

There is no requirement for the material to have any aesthetic or material value to be protected nor to be registered as copyright.

The general rule is that if someone has created it, then they or, the person to whom they have transferred the rights, own the copyright. ‘It’ includes: original artistic works including paintings, photographs, literary, dramatic and musical material, sound and video recordings, including broadcasts live or otherwise, and applies to any medium, including publishing on the internet and in email marketing.

On a practical note, if an article, picture or such has already been published then the copyright owner is often very amenable to having it seen in print again as long as there is suitable acknowledgment of source as this can provide a bit of free advertising. Even if a fee is required, it is often set quite low.

When an article is published in a magazine for instance, it is only ‘first serial rights’, briefly the right to publish it the first time, that are transferred. The copyright for further publication normally remains with the author.

You might think a photocopy of a particularly complimentary magazine article in an email or on your website might well generate reassurance amongst potential customers. But this can be quite difficult as the norm is that multiple agents have various rights to it and you might be daunted by the task of obtaining it all.

For instance, there is the person who wrote the words for the article, then those who took the pictures, frequently sourced from more than one person, the graphic artist who created the layout for the specific article and the person who owns the general page layout rights. Further, the copy might well contain items, such as tables, databases, lyrics and quotes which are sourced from other holders of copyright. And similar rights extend to any graphic advert that might be on the page as these would have copyright owners of the design and content.

But it is not all restrictions, although there are fewer exemptions than one might expect in the 45 paragraphs and 18 sub paragraphs in the relevant chapter of The Act. These include educational use and adapting copyright material for the visually impaired. When offering for sale works of art it is normally permissible to reproduce the item.

The general principle that ideas cannot be subject to copyright, only the form in which they are expressed, was challenged by some of the joint authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, when they alleged that Dan Brown, in his book The Da Vinci Code, had copied their ‘central theme’. However, on appeal it was found for Brown.

Copyright is time limited but these limits vary.

Material on the web is similarly protected, although cognizance is taken of the technical reproduction requirements of the technology. For websites and other transmitted material such as email marketing it is advised that the © sign be put on every page with the year of creation and the copyright holder identified.