Copyright: Do You Know The Basics?

June 24, 2019

Copyright is crucial. Huge thanks therefore to our friends at ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Agency) who have created this useful guide for poets.


Baffled by copyright? Want to know where you can find more information about your rights as a writer?

Copyright should be a simple concept – but in reality, it rarely is. Understanding a contract and tackling difficulties with a third party can be particularly complicated.

For example:

– What are ‘restricted acts’ and ‘copyright exceptions’?
– How do you ‘register’ your copyright? (Clue: You don’t need to).

Here are the answers to these, and a few more, frequently asked copyright questions.


What rights do copyright holders have?

Copyright owners have exclusive rights in their work. These include the rights:

– to copy a work,
– to issue copies of the work to the public (including rental or lending),
– to perform, show or play the work in public,
– to broadcast the work or make it available online,
– to adapt the work or do any of the above in relation to the adaptation.

Anyone who does any of these without permission or in situations not covered by statutory exceptions is infringing copyright and breaking the law.


How do I register copyright?

As soon as you record an idea, for example by writing down the first draft of a poem, it’s protected by copyright. As long as the work is original, copyright protection is automatic. Copyright ensures works cannot be reproduced or used without your permission. This means you can profit from your creation.

There is no formal system in the UK for registering copyright. Most commonly you would use the copyright symbol ©, followed by your name and the year the work was first published. To show a written work existed by a set date, send a copy to a reliable third party, such as a bank or solicitor.

In the US, registering your work with the copyright office gives you certain benefits in the case of infringement proceedings.


Are there any exceptions to copyright?

The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 provides certain exceptions to copyright. ‘Fair Dealing’, for example, applies to copying a work for non-commercial research or private study, illustration for teaching, criticism or review, and news reporting, quotation and parody.

Libraries and educational establishments also benefit from copyright exceptions, but in some cases, authors are entitled to receive royalties from ALCS and Public Lending Rights (PLR).


What happens if my work is used outside the UK?

The UK is signed up to a number of international treaties that seek to protect the copyright of works when used overseas. A fundamental principle of international copyright law is that all works should have equal protection in each territory, regardless of the nationality of the creator. This means your work can be protected all over the world.


What are moral rights?

Moral rights protect the bond between you and your work. They include the right for you to be associated with your work and prevent others from altering your work significantly. Examples include:

The Paternity (Attribution) Right
The right of a creator to be identified as the author of a work. This right has to be ‘asserted’ in writing – for example, included in your contract.

The Integrity Right
The right to object to any unauthorised distortion or changes to your work that may prejudice your honour or reputation.


What is rights reversion?

Contracts sometimes stipulate that the right to publish a book belongs to the publisher unless the book goes out of print or sales fall below a certain level. This clause varies, but authors who want to try to revive a work by self-publishing can potentially regain their rights through the ‘out-of-print’ or ‘reversion of rights’ clause in their contracts.

Read more about contracts and how reverting your rights works here.


What other organisations can help me?

If you’re not signed up to receive UK and Irish Public Lending Right (PLR), then you probably should be. PLR is a legal right to payment from the Government each time your books are borrowed from public libraries. While ALCS pays overseas PLR to members from countries in which we have agreements, you need to register separately with PLR UK for UK and Irish PLR.

You may also want to consider joining a writers’ union, like the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB), the Society of Authors (SoA) or the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), depending on where your poetry is published. The advice of such organisations can come in handy when you need contract vetting or legal advice.

Read more about other writers’ organisations here.


Other useful resources

See the resources section of our website.

See our copyright education leaflet for adults.