The rights granted by copyright

If you own the copyright in a work, you have exclusive rights over certain uses of that work. These rights fall into two categories: economic rights and moral rights.

Copyright would usually be infringed when someone carries out any of the acts restricted by copyright without your permission, whether in respect of the whole or a substantial part of your work.

Economic Rights

Economic rights give you the opportunity to make commercial gain from the exploitation of your works. This would usually be by licensing others to use the work, or by selling the rights.

The author of a copyright work has the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit the following acts:


This covers copying a work in any way. For example, photocopying, reproducing a printed page by handwriting, typing or scanning into a computer, or taping recorded music.


This covers issuing copies of a work to the public. This would include, for example, a book being sold in a bookshop.

This right only applies the first time a copy of a work enters into commercial circulation and so would not prevent the re-sale of that copy, for example by a second hand shop.

Rental and lending

This covers renting or lending copies of a work to the public. For example, renting from a video store or loaning a CD from a library.

Public performance

This covers performing, showing or playing a work in public. This would include performing a play in a theatre, and playing sound recordings or showing films in public.

This right does not extend to the exhibition of literary, dramatic, artistic or musical works (for example, in a museum or gallery).

Communication to the public

This covers communication of a work to the public by electronic transmission. This would include broadcasting a work or putting it on the internet.


This covers the making of an adaptation of a work. This would include making a film out of a novel, transcribing a musical work, translating a work into a different language or converting a computer program into a different computer language or code.

Moral Rights

Works often mean more than just the economic value they can generate from their exploitation they can be very special to the person who creates them as they have invested a lot in the work, emotionally and/or intellectually. As a result, copyright works need to be protected in ways that are different to traditional forms of property. Moral rights protect those non-economic interests.

Moral rights are only available for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film, as well as some performances.

Unlike economic rights, moral rights cannot be sold or otherwise transferred. However, the rights holder can choose to waive these rights.

There are four moral rights recognised in the UK:

The right to attribution

This is the right to be recognised as the author of a work. This right needs to be asserted before it applies. For example, in a contract with a publisher, an author may state that they assert their right to be identified as the author of their work.

The right to object to derogatory treatment of a work

Derogatory treatment is defined as any addition, deletion, alteration to or adaptation of a work that amounts to a distortion or mutilation of the work, or is otherwise prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.

The right to object to false attribution

This is the right not to be named as the author of a work you did not create. This would prevent, for example, a well-known author being named as the author of a story they did not write.

The right to privacy of certain photographs and films

This right enables someone who has commissioned a photograph or film for private and domestic purposes to prevent it from being made available or exhibited to the public. For example, this would allow you to prevent a photographer from putting your wedding photographs on their website without your permission.

Published 26 March 2015