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The term copyright refers to the legal right given to the creator of a creative work to use, distribute and reproduce their work.

Examples of a copyrightable work include literary, audio-visual and artistic works as well as photographs, sound recordings and computer programs.

Some examples of types of works that are protected by copyright include films, such as James Cameron’s Avatar, books, such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and music, such as Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off.

There is no registration procedure for the copyright protection of works in Ireland, as copyright protection is automatic and arises upon creation of an original work. Copyright takes effect as soon as the work is put on paper, film or other fixed medium such as CD-ROM, DVD etc.

In Ireland the term of protection for copyright is generally 70 years after the death of the creator/author. After the period of copyright protection expires the work enters the “public domain” and becomes available for use without the permission of the copyright owner.

The first known settlement of a copyright dispute is reputed to have been come about in Ireland and was dealt with under the Brehon Laws.  In 561 AD, King Diarmuid, High King of Ireland adjudicated in a case involving the copying of a book that belonged to the Abbot Finnian by Saint Columcille. King Diarmuid found in favour of the Saint with the famous words “To every cow belongs its calf; to every book its copy”.

The relevant legislation relating to copyright protection is the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, as amended.

Related Rights

Performers, producers and broadcasters of works have what are known as related rights. The holders of related rights are entitled to remuneration for the use of their work as well as to determine how it can be used.

In addition to ensuring that the copyright in a work is protected, the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 provides for the protection of moral rights, such as the paternity right which is the right to be identified as the author of a work, and the integrity right which is the right of the author to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of their work. Other rights covered by the Act include the licensing of a work and the rights in a design that relate to the Industrial Designs Act, 2001.

Copyright Internationally

While copyright protection is automatic in Ireland and in most countries, it is not universally the case. For example, in the United States a work must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to qualify for copyright protection.

The term of protection for a copyrighted work can also vary internationally. In Ireland and the European Union as a whole, the term of protection is 70 years after the death of the author. This is also the general term of protection in the United States. Many countries offer 50 years after the death of the author, such as Vietnam, and some countries have a term of protection that extends to 100 years, such as Mexico.

The length of this protection is dependent on the country of origin of a work. If a work is first created in Ireland, it will receive the Irish term of protection of 70 years after the death of the author internationally.

In the European Union, copyright is legislated at individual Member State level. The EU sets the copyright framework within which Member States operate.

Ireland has also signed up to a number of international agreements, treaties and conventions in the copyright and related rights area that are aimed at providing more consistent copyright protection in the countries that are party to those agreements. Further details on the range of agreements and signatories can be found at the website for the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO).

Orphan Works

A work that is still in copyright but has no author attributable to claim this copyright is referred to as an orphan work. SI No 490 of 2014 came into effect on 29 October 2014 and transposes Directive 2012/28/EU which governs orphan works in Europe. 

These Regulations allow cultural organisations, such as publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments, museums, archives, film or audio heritage institutions and public service broadcasters, to digitise orphan works and make them publicly available online in all EU Member States.

Regulatory Impact Analysis on the transposition of the Orphan Works Directive

More information in relation to accessing and registering orphan works can be found on the Irish Patents Website

Related websites 

Patents Office

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) 


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