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Examining Legislature: Copyright and its effect on Media Creators

A discussion of intellectual property rights and its effect on media creators.
A copyright symbol

Intellectual property refers to any idea that an individual or group can own. It is a legal term, and is used to give precedent for the possession of ideas. The things we create have value, and the law protects our creations against things that could damage that value.

This piece of UK law protects the intellectual property and associated article created by an individual or corporation. An article in this case refers to any tangible object that you have created: a song or computer program, for example. When introduced, the laws defined the scope of each of the three types of protection: copyrights, designs, and patents. This act built upon previous laws and has seen some amendments since the rise of the information age. This body of law is extremely complicated to navigate, and lawyers are required to properly defend pieces of work that are protected under copyright law.

Copyright is a legal precedent that allows the creator (or creators) to protect a piece of original artistic, literary, dramatic, or musical work.

Copyright comes into effect as soon as a work is created. It is also possible to register your copyright material, which makes it easier to prove ownership if someone copies your work.

Copyright policy states that the following acts cannot be carried out without the author’s express permission:

  • Copying the work
  • Renting, lending, or issuing the work to the public
  • Performing, broadcasting, or showing the work in public
  • Adapting the work

It also affords the author certain moral rights:

  • To be identified as the author
  • To object to the work being used in a way that impacts the reputation of the work or the author

Design right

The design of a piece of work is defined in this act as “the shape or configuration (whether internal or external) of the whole or part of an article”. This means the shape, texture, colour, materials used, or ornamentation.

To qualify for design rights, the overall impression of the article should be different from any other design. You must also detail your design in a document, which forms part of the registration process.

Design rights cannot refer to:

  • Methods or principles of production
  • Anything that is commonplace or common practice in a country or field of design
  • Articles that must connect to or fit to another article for one or the other to perform their function (e.g. the shape of phone cases)
  • Surface decoration


Patents are agreements between a creator and a government granting the creator exclusive rights to a design or process for a specified time. In exchange, the creator publicly discloses the design. Patents are conventionally used to protect inventions and as such, anything covered under copyright law is not patentable.

An invention is patentable if it meets all the following criteria:

  • It is something that can be made or used
  • It is new
  • It is inventive

There are rules on what types of things cannot be patented, including:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works
  • A way of doing business, playing a game, or thinking
  • A method of medical treatment or diagnosis
  • A discovery, scientific theory, or mathematical method
  • The way information is presented
  • Some computer programs or mobile apps
  • Essentially biological processes, such as cross-breeding plants

Patents are expensive, and most of this cost comes from hiring a patent lawyer to handle the application. These specialist lawyers have studied this body of law extensively and are almost essential in securing a patent. Only one in 20 patent applications are successful without help.

Fair use

There is a concept of fair use included in the act, which governs the acceptable uses of a piece of copyrighted work by someone other than the author. The term is quite ambiguous and most cases need to be decided by a court. Below is a list of some of the conditions of fair use; it is not exclusive, but gives a good idea of what fair use entails:

  • Making temporary or personal copies
  • Use in research
  • Criticism and critique
  • Use in parody
  • Incidental inclusions, covering the accidental use of a piece of copyright material, such as a song in a movie clip
  • Educational use
  • Libraries and archives

A question for you

The gradual improvement and democratisation of media-creation tools has led to an increase in the number of media creators, both independent individuals and larger corporations.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these laws for media creators?

Consider the impact on both large media corporations and small independent creators.

Share your ideas in the comments, and respond to comments from your fellow learners.

Teach Computing Curriculum Resources

The Teach Computing Curriculum includes resources for teaching the following lesson related to this step:

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