Copyright basics – 10 facts everyone should know about copyright


This is a new series exploring copyright as a form of intellectual property. Over the next few weeks, posts will exclusively focus on copyright as a form of IP. If there’s any particular aspect you’ll like to see explained in detail, you’re welcome to drop a comment or an email to – Thanks!

What is a copyright? A copyright is a unique form of IP right as it does not require registration. It is a right afforded to literary and artistic work. The key criterion is the element of originality. Copyright works includes literary works such as books, database, software, computer programmes, apps, paintings, images and so on. It has a broad range of protection and the right to a copyright works arises automatically.

Below are 10 facts about copyright you should know.

1.       Copyright protects the expression of ideas, not ideas. What does this mean? There is technically no right in ideas, but ideas can be protected via trade secrets. The idea has to be expressed for it to have copyright protection. So, if you have an idea to write a book etc, the idea has to be expressed in the form of a book before you can have a right in the book. Copyright protects your created work not an imaginary idea.

2.       Anything copyrightable is referred to as a work –  copyrightable works. In copyright language, it is easier to refer to broad range of rights as works.

3.       Copyright protects original works. The work has to be original to gain copyright protection, i.e., an element of originality is required to gain protection. Clearly, in the creation of your work, you will rely and draw inspiration from other existing works  – let’s say you’re writing a book you may have to read other books to gain inspiration/ ideas etc.  nothing is wrong, (provided it is referenced) and your work is not just a “copy and paste”. Assessing the degree of originality is dependent on the fact of the case.

4. There are some exceptions to the (reproduction) right of a copyright owner. This includes fair use/dealing, research, study/criticism, review. Fair use/dealing, such as quoting a small amount for educational purposes with due regard to reference and citation. Generally, exceptions apply for non-commercial use /private study. It all still depends on the circumstances of each case – do take note to read other’s copyright notice to comply with their exception policy.

5.       Copyright protects economic and moral right. Economic right includes the right to commercialise the work – this includes the right to reproduction, distribution, licence, sell etc. Moral right involves right to attribution – a person should be recognised for the work they create.

6.       Copyright exists automatically – no formal requirement for registration, the right arises automatically.

7.       Copyright protects a work whether the © notice is used or not – it’s best practice to use the © notice to reinforce your right, but irrespective of whether the notice © is used or not – the right exists automatically. A copyright notice is written with the © symbol, your name, and the year of creation. An example: © Ideas and IP, 2023.

8.      Copyrightable works should not be shared without the permission of the owner. Permission can be ascertained from the copyright notice. Using the example of a book – it is generally written “all right reserved…”. Here the author/publisher has restricted the work from being shared (with due regard to the exception circumstances mentioned above). Even if a work is freely uploaded on a website/any medium, it is courteous to still refer people back to the source and not merely take screenshot of the content/work –  it might be free, but the person may be generating traction through the free content and by sharing the work without referring people back to the owner, there is a denial of right – this may also affect the right of attribution where the person is not acknowledged as the owner of the work. This is a major challenge for copyright owners especially in the digital age as it is almost impossible for a copyright owner to monitor how their work is being used by others – one of the best way to protect a copyright work in the digital age is to make use of a technological protective measure.

9.       Copyright has a vast range of protection – copyright is unique in the level of protection it offers – copyright can protect books, database, software, computer programmes, apps, blogs, images, databases, website, designs and so on and so on. etc. It is very encompassing and can offer a broad range of protection.

10.   Copyright lasts for a reasonable long time. Copyright, unlike Patent and trademark lasts throughout the duration of the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

Till next time…

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