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Who owns copyright?

  • In the case of a literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work, the general rule is that the author, i.e. the person who created the work, is the first owner of the economic rights under copyright. This rule also applies to commissioned works. However, where such a work is made in the course of employment, the employer is the first owner of these rights, unless an agreement to the contrary has been made with the author. In some situations two or more people may be joint authors and/or joint owners of copyright.
  • In the case of a film, the principal director and the film producer are joint authors and first owners of the economic rights, and similar provisions as referred to above apply where the director is employed.
  • In the case of a sound recording the author and first owner of copyright is the record producer; in the case of a broadcast, the broadcaster; and in the case of a published edition, the publisher.

Copyright is, however, a form of property which, like physical property, can be bought or sold, inherited or otherwise transferred, wholly or in part. So, some or all of the economic rights may subsequently belong to someone other than the first owner. In contrast, the moral rights accorded to authors of literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film directors remain with the author or director or pass to his or her heirs on death.

Copyright in material produced by a Government department belongs to the Crown.  The Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) can provide more information about this.