As general rule the copyright for a literary work lasts from date of creation to 1st January in the year following 70 years from the death of author. It means the work by Wyatt and Shakespeare is public. But this is not the case, 2039 Rule has served as exception here.
According to The copyright, designs and patents act 1988 there were two ways to protect the copyright works.
- Works published during the author’s life time were protected for specific fixed number of years after the death of author.
- Works which were not published until after the author's death were protected by copyright for a fixed number of years after the end of the year of publication.
Due to contradiction of perpetual copyright with public policy above mentioned provision was changed by the CDPA to cover that unpublished till 1st august 1989 would be protected further no longer than 50 years. This is what we call as Rule 2039.
Under this rule any literary, dramatic or musical work created by an author who is unknown or by an author who died before 1969 and none of his work had published by 1 August 1989, will be protected by copyright till 31 December 2039.So you cannot publish or adapt a work by any famous or unknown author which was not published before 1 August 1989 until 2040 without the consent of the current copyright owner. The "2039 rule" also applies to unpublished sound recordings made on or after 1 June 1957, unpublished photographs taken on or after 1 June 1957 and unpublished and unregistered films if they remain unpublished until 2039. If they are published between 1989 and 2039, different rules will apply.
In 2013 Parliament approved powers to amend the "2039 rule" and bring it into line with the standard copyright position to achieve fairness and legal clarity, to reduce the administrative burden on businesses and to bring UK law into line with EU law. The Intellectual Property Office has now published an extremely helpful and detailed consultation document which invites comments on its proposals to achieve that. It suggests that the general rule of copyright (i.e. protection lasting for 70 years from the death of the author) should apply to works currently subject to the "2039 rule" either immediately from the date of implementation of any new law or else that there will be a transitional period. In most cases, the practical implication of this will be that the first person to publish the work will have the benefit of 25 years of protection pursuant to the publication right. The publication right is a right given to the person who publishes a previously unpublished work after the copyright in that work has expired. It affords the same protections given to a copyright owner.
Parliament back in 2013 gave its approval to amend this rule so that it may bring into line with standard copyright position. Purpose behind this approval is to achieve fairness and legal clarity in these matters and to bring into line the UK and EU law.
The IP office has invite comment on its proposal to achieve that for which it has now published a very detailed and helpful document.
Responses on the consultation document are invited to the Intellectual Property Office by 12 December 2014.
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