Own-it | Intellectual Property Know-How for Creative Businesses


How to copyright your work

Published 01.11.08 at 09:30

Copyright gives those who invest the skill and effort to create original work the right to prevent others from copying them.

There is no copyright in ideas or concepts, but rather in the expression of these ideas. For example, a general theme for a TV programme has no copyright, but once it is made or written down, the recording of the TV show itself, the images of fictional characters, the script and the music will all benefit from protection by copyright.

It is important that what is created is put into material form. For example, if someone creates a new song but doesn't write it down or record a performance of it, they have no copyright protection. 'Material form' does not have to be writing on paper, but can include saving it onto a disk or hard drive and recording it on a tape or CD.

Practical steps: Unlike in the US, there is no formal copyright registration scheme in the UK. Your work is protected automatically by copyright once you create it.

Nonetheless it is advisable to use a copyright notice whenever your work is reproduced and/or displayed (where practical). You should also try to keep records to show when you created the work. Copyright notices typically read as follows:

"Copyright © [name of artist] [date]. All rights reserved"

If you are creating an electronic work (for example, internet art) and/or your work consists of a collection of 'found' or other images, your work may also benefit from copyright as a compilation or benefit from database right protection.

Duration: Copyright protection lasts for up to 70 years from the date of the death of the creator, or in the case of sound recordings, films, broadcasts and cable programmes, for 50 years running from the end of the year in which the work was created.

Content provided by Tarlo Lyons. Photo credit: Fmc.nikon.d40


Please note that this article discusses the legal position in the UK at the time of publication. It provides general information only but is not to be regarded as legal advice. You must take advice from a specialist lawyer in relation to your specific circumstances. Further, you should seek additional legal advice when dealing with parties based in other parts of the world or works originating from other parts of the world as the legal position may vary.


  1. Very useful

    I can now understand what copyright is. Very clear

    Thank you very much

    Posted by Wendy Jackson on 02.06.09 at 16:53

  2. i have designs some unique garments

    I have created some unique designs and I would love to sell them but I do not have the money!

    I don't really know how to sell them and set up a viable business. Selling from home is a really bad idea because it is a big job to find public that would visit your home or ask you to visit visit them in order to buy from you. It can take a whole day of travelling to make a £10 sale.

    The website is also not a very good idea as chances of someone coming across your website are fairly remote and cost of running a website and maintaining it is to be considered.

    I am fed up with so called professionals funded by government and banks telling me obvious common sense stuff which any layman on bus will say to you and masquerading as professional advise.

    Beginning to develop a serious phobia about getting more so called advise or what they call help and I specially hate people sending me links which take me so long to read and figure out and are mostly irrelevant.

    Why does the government pay people who are clueless to give you common sense advise ... don't they think we would have thought of this ourselves? Why doesn't the government use this money to pay people who will seriously direct you the small business to success?

    What I need names and address of people who can help me protect my designs and artwork.
    Or a viable funding agency which will give me funding. Not web links which are irrelevant to me and exclude me as a criteria for funding anyway. I am also happy to sell my designs to a design agent or a factory who might produce them and sell them in shops.

    I also would love to find partner who can own this business with me in return for investment and some work. I don't have a place to sell my garments or artwork from and I don't have the money to get a place or quantities made.

    Posted by kulsum butt on 11.05.10 at 11:08

  3. I notice they don't actually help you get a copy right

    When you go to a solicitor pay him to copyright your things...he will explain and fill out the forms etc. Since these guys do nothing to actually get your copyright (job) done by the time you figured out where, how to do it you would have heard the laws a hundred times anyway.

    Posted by kulsum butt on 11.05.10 at 11:16

  4. Title of a magazine


    Can you tell me how do I protect the Title of a magazine I am going to launch, please? I can't put a notice of copyright.

    I will need to tell it to a number of people before I actually publish even the sample issue.

    Many thanks.

    Posted by Teresa Couceiro on 21.07.11 at 20:57

  5. Title of a magazine - response

    Hi Teresa,
    Titles of magazines are usually protected by trade marks. Please read our factsheet on trade marks. Just go into our search facility, key in trade mark/factsheet and you should find it.
    copyright is an automatic right for artistic or literally works so would protect the copy you write, the images in your magazine (if you create them yourself) and the layout of the magazine (typographical arrangement). You can use the copyright sign for these work to signpost your ownership but no registration is required.

    Posted by Silvia Baumgart on 22.07.11 at 13:42

  6. Paintings

    My sister and I have inherited some paintings produced by a relative of ours who died 69years ago . We would like to post some information and copies of his work on the internet .

    We would like to understand what we would need to do to copyright this work

    Posted by Michael Cope on 09.02.12 at 09:21

  7. Graphic design prints on products

    Many thanks for this opportunity to write to you, and share our problems

    I have created a set of graphics for a home ware range. I have not yet looked into the manufacturing, but i foresee wallpapers, tablecloth, lamps, tea towels prints etc being made. Would i need to copy right the application of the print and each product, or can i only copy right the graphics, as this is the original idea. the application is secondary. I have read your guidelines, but still am slightly non the wiser, as to what steps i need to take next. I haven’t shown the designs to many people as I’m scares the idea will be out.
    I would much appreciate your advice and assistance

    Posted by LEAH HUGHES on 21.02.12 at 13:16

  8. tv shows


    I have some tv show ideas but I would like to have it copyrighted, how much of the show do you actually need to write down on paper and to what level?


    Posted by Anonymous on 28.03.12 at 13:33

  9. Chapters of a book

    I want to copyright chapters of a book individually before I send those across to people for endorsements. Some of these people are outside the UK.
    Could you help me understand how to do it please?

    Posted by Vishal A on 28.10.13 at 14:21

  10. Concept

    you do mention above that Concept cannot be copyrighted, but I have come up with a performance installation concept that is very distinctive and can be easily applied in different performance pieces for different countries...

    I need your advice on how to protect my IP regarding this concept / performance style.

    Thank you

    Posted by Anonymous on 19.03.14 at 22:05

  11. Fashion & designs/samples


    Could you give me reputable copy rights agency names that I need to get in touch regarding my garments that I created, their patterns shapes,to be protected. I have some , a few big brands contacted me that they like to see my samples, I would like to take them o see after the protected via copy right, that they cant copy my garments after the meeting.

    Kind Regards

    Posted by Anonymous on 03.12.15 at 11:07


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