Have you ever written a thesis or article, written up an experiment, drawn a diagram or even recorded a presentation you have given on DVD? All can be protected by copyright.

There is also copyright in music, broadcasts, sound recordings, computer software, photographs, films and typographical arrangements of published editions. Copyright does not generally protect against 3D reproduction of items from industrial drawings or plans (e.g. models created from blueprints). They are instead protected by design rights or as registered designs.

Copyright protects the form in which you express your idea and not the idea itself. For instance, the copyright in the written words of a thesis may belong to one person but the patent over the invention described in the thesis may belong to someone else.

Unlike a patent, there is no need to register copyright in the UK; it arises automatically. All that is required is mainly that the work must be original i.e. not copied from another source.

There are different periods of duration for copyright, depending on the type of work. In respect of a written article, copyright would last for the life of the writer plus another 70 years.

Copyright protection

There are no special formalities required to protect your work in the UK. This is not always the case in other countries. The good thing about copyright is that it arises automatically and it is free! However, as there is at the moment no register to refer to, this sometimes makes it difficult to prove ownership. Some practical tips to help overcome this and protect copyright are set out below:

Keep all originals of your copyright work such as notes, drafts, sketches, drawings, videos etc. in a secure place.

Record the date you created the copyright work: a good way to do this is put the work in an envelope, post it to yourself or somebody independent, such as a solicitor, and leave the envelope unopened. The postal stamp can be used to demonstrate the date before which it had been created.

Place a copyright notice (for example, © J.Bloggs 2014 or © University of Knowledge 2014) on the piece of work which will act as a useful reminder to anyone using the work that copyright exists and that action may be taken.

Try inserting some irrelevant but intentional mistakes or anomalies in your work (e.g. a repeated line of source code, or an unusual spelling mistake). This can be a good way of illustrating that someone has copied your work if their work also includes the same mistake or anomaly.

Protection of work on the internet is more tricky as it is extremely difficult to police the internet effectively. Therefore, don’t publish anything on the internet that you or your university/institution would not wish to be copied. Perhaps just publish excerpts, and leave people to come back to you for the main work.