BECTU supports its members on copyright issues by retaining a copyright consultant to provide advice on this important and developing area.

The union also operates a Script Registration service which helps members to establish the date of authorship of a given work. BECTU members will find extensive information here about copyright; BECTU members should login to access full info on script registration. 

Patents protect innovations. Copyright protects creative works.  Copyright only protects the way in which original ideas are expressed, not the ideas themselves.

Who does copyright affect?

First and foremost copyright affects freelance workers, or the self-employed, operating under a contract for services. 

The occupations assisted by BECTU, and most likely to be involved with copyright, are director, producer, script and screenwriter, animation artist, visual artist, designer and photographer. 

Some set designers, model makers, researchers, and hair and make-up artists will also have an interest in copyright matters. 

Within the union these individuals interests are generally represented through the relevant branches of the London Production Division and the Regional Production Division.

What is copyright?

Copyright is one of a range of rights, known as Intellectual Property.  Other forms of Intellectual Property are trade marks and patents. 

Patents protect innovations. Copyright protects creative works. Copyright only protects the way in which original ideas are expressed, not the ideas themselves. That means the idea must be in ‘material form’ i.e. written down, drawn or recorded, to be protected. 

Copyright is the right of the creator to permit, or prohibit, others from copying their works.  That is, it allows the creator to earn a living by controlling the use of their work.  Copyright also provides checks and balances which reduce the copyright owner’s “monopoly” over their work.  These are known as exceptions to copyright or fair dealing.

What is protected?

The range of protected works of greatest interest to BECTU’s members are:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works;
  • Sound recordings, films and broadcasts;
  • The typographical arrangement of published editions (known as the publishers’ right);
  • Performances (protected by related rights not by copyright itself).

Who gets copyright?

The “author” is normally the first owner of copyright in the work and the “author” is the person who creates the work. “Author” is a word used in copyright law to cover all sorts of creators including writers, composers, artists, photographers and designers.  The authors and co-first owners of copyright in a film are the principal Director and the Producer.  Other first owners of copyright are publishers, record producers and broadcasters.  Performances by actors, dancers and musicians are covered by related rights.

Employees who create copyright protected works have no rights in work created in the course of their employment.  Rights in those works belong automatically to the employer. 

How long does copyright last?

In general, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years from the end of the year in which the author dies.

Moral Rights

Copyright is considered to be an economic right but authors also have moral rights.  The most important of these are the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work and the right to be identified as the author.

Can copyright be registered?

No, there is no system for registering copyright in the UK and any commercial service purporting to do so should be treated with caution.

BECTU offers its members a script registration service; this does not register copyright but provides authors with the means of demonstrating the date by which their work existed.

Find out more about BECTU

Non-member? Join BECTU to get access to more information and advice about copyright and to take advantage of our Script Registration service.