Copyright protects written, theatrical, musical and artistic works. It can also be applied to film, book layouts, sound recordings and broadcasts. You can copyright software and databases as well, since they are classed as literary works.
If you create an original work (eg article or script) and record it in fixed form (eg in writing), you automatically have copyright and you do not have to apply for it. Duration of copyright depends upon the type of work and is usually calculated as a period following the creator's death.
If someone wants to use your copyrighted work, they will need to seek your permission to use it (there are a few exceptions), which usually involves paying a fee, unless you waive it.
Copyright and freelancing
Often employers ask employees and any freelancers or contractors to sign an agreement that concedes copyright ownership. This is common in publishing - frequently, suppliers (eg a web content agency) grant copyright to their customers (eg the website owner) as part of a commercial agreement.
To learn more about copyright, see our guides on:
You cannot seek copyright protection for an idea, so before you disclose ideas to a third party you should consider drawing up and signing a non-disclosure agreement. If in doubt, seek legal advice - don't rely on informal verbal agreements.
You must be careful not to breach copyright protection for work in the public domain. For example, illegally download a song from a website or broadcast it by radio. In some instances, it can be near impossible to track and take legal action against those who ignore copyright. However, where flagrant copyright abuse has taken place, the copyright owner may take legal action against infringement.
If you need help protecting your intellectual property, contact Invest Northern Ireland for support.