Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

What is the difference between intellectual property and copyright?

If you’ve got an idea that you want to express – whether it’s for a book, a new gadget or a fresh method of completing a system or process which will give better results – you obviously don’t want someone else to take the credit for it. Not only would someone using your ideas as their own mean less exposure for you, it could also mean less money.

If your idea might have commercial value, it makes sense to ensure that it’s classified as your “intellectual property”.

What is intellectual property (IP)?

Intellectual property is “property of the mind”; eg, inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

It’s important to note that IP isn’t actually an idea itself, but rather the expression of an idea. For example, the idea of writing a novel featuring school children is clearly not IP whereas a book which incorporates this idea would be considered the IP of the author (unless they sell their IP right) and would be eligible for protection.

What is copyright?

Copyright is one of the ways in which IP can be protected, but it is not the only way.

Depending on the way the idea is expressed, a different form of protection will be needed to ensure that the idea’s manifestation can’t be stolen or misappropriated.

Copyright may be defined as “the exclusive and assignable legal right, given to the originator for a fixed number of years, to print, publish, perform, film or record literary, artistic or musical material.”

Primarily used by authors and artists, copyright covers expressions of ideas such as books (including e-books), videos, songs, works of art and films, copyright is used to protect the creators of original works from having their work used by others, often for commercial gain.

As well as copyright, there are a number of other ways in which IP can be protected:

  • Trademarks: these are symbols, words or phrases which are used to represent a particular company. They allow customers to clearly and quickly see that the goods and/or services they are buying are those provided by their preferred company. Trademarks prevent competitors making replicas of a company’s product, then passing the replicas off as the company’s brand and trading on their reputation in order to make sales.
  • Patents: these prevent other people or organisations from copying an invention (be it a process, machine or system) for a set period of time.
  • Trade secrets: pieces of information which potentially have great commercial value, giving a company a competitive edge.  Examples of trade secrets include the recipes for well-known foods or beverages, as well as particular techniques or technologies which a company employs in order to create a superior product.

How to copyright intellectual property

Copyright for an original piece of music, book or film does not have to be registered, it is granted automatically. There is no “central registry” or similar for copyright.

In the UK (and most other countries), copyright protection is provided for 50 years on most original works. Works which aren’t literary, artistic or visual may have a different copyright period. If an individual suspects that their work has been used without their permission, it’s possible to launch a civil lawsuit to prevent further use and potentially extract compensation for any damage caused to income or reputation as a result of the copyright infringement.

If you are concerned about the potential of copyright infringement, it’s important to make sure you have evidence available to show that you are the original creator of the work in question.

Article written and contributed by: Myerson Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Myerson Solicitors directly.

Published on 28th February 2019
(Last updated 7th May 2021)