Mar 30, 2017

Copyright; registered or unregistered – what does this mean?

Copyright is an intellectual property right which protects the expression of an idea. As such, protection can extend to various types of works, such as artistic works, literary works or sound recordings, enabling the copyright holder to prevent others from using all or a substantial part of their work(s).

A distinguishing feature of copyright systems in various jurisdictions is whether they operate on a registered or unregistered system; depending on the jurisdiction, this can affect the rights an owner of a work may possess.

The UK operates on an unregistered copyright system. This means that if a creator's work falls within the range of works defined by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("CDPA"), providing a work is original and in permanent form, copyright will arise automatically without any registration being required.  This is valuable to creators as it removes any cost or procedural barriers to copyright protection.

Disputes regarding copyright in the UK can focus on whether a work falls within a defined category recognised by the CDPA. For example, after drawn out litigation, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the iconic Stormtrooper helmet from the Star Wars movie franchise could not be considered a sculpture (a defined subcategory of 'artistic works', itself a category of works which may benefit from copyright protection under the CDPA). On this basis, copyright could not subsist in the Stormtrooper helmets in the UK.

The copyright system in place in the UK allows a copyright holder to obtain copyright protection and by extension enforce their rights against infringing parties with relevant ease given the lack of formality. This contrasts with other jurisdictions which run a register of copyrights which must be used before any enforcement action can take place.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or

in: Copyright, News

Share this page