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Copyright is a form of intellectual property that grants rights to the creators ("authors") of certain categories of works, such as books, songs, plays or films. When you are the owner of a copyright work, you have the exclusive right to copy the work, make the work available to the public and make an adaptation of the work. The copyright owner is entitled to remuneration for the use of their work as well as to determine how their work can be used. The copyright owner also has the right to prevent others from reproducing, publishing, performing, communicating to the public or adapting their creative 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.

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.

Term of Protection

There is no registration procedure for copyright works under Irish copyright law.  Copyright protection is automatic and arises upon the creation of an original work.  In general, the term of protection for copyright is 70 years after the death of the creator/author but the term of protection varies depending on the type of work, for example:

  • Sound recordings - 50 years after the recording is made or first made available to the public or where a sound recording was created on or after 1 November 2013 the term of protection is 70 years after the sound recording is made
  • Broadcasts and cable programmes - 50 years after the broadcast is first transmitted and for cable programmes it's 50 years after the date the work is first made available to the public
  • Typographical arrangements - 50 years after the date the work is first made available to the public
  • Computer-generated works - 70 years after the date the work is first made available to the public
  • Database rights - 15 years from the end of the calendar year in which the database was completed
  • Making available of a work not previously made available - 25 years from when the work is first made available to the public

After the period of copyright protection expires a work is said to be “in the public domain".  This means that the work becomes available for use without the permission of the copyright owner.


The author or the creator is defined as the person who creates the work.   As a rule, the person who creates the work owns the copyright in the work.  However, there are certain situations where the creator of the work is not the owner of the copyright:  

  • Employees
    When a work is made by an employee in the course of employment, the employer is the first owner of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, for example, a Journalist.
  • Government/Oireachtas or a prescribed International organization
    The author is not regarded as the owner of a work where the work is the subject of the Government, the Oireachtas or a prescribed international organisation.    
  • Work conferred to some other person by an enactment
    The author is not regarded as the owner of a work where the copyright in the work is conferred on some other person by an enactment.

The © symbol

The Copyright symbol © is an internationally recognised symbol that is sometimes used to show that copyright is claimed in a work.  There is no legal requirement to use the © symbol to indicate that a work is protected by copyright and its inclusion does not legally constitute proof of ownership.  It does however, indicate a claim to copyright, which may prove useful if required to defend that claim or to deter infringement.  If a copyright owner decides to include the © symbol on a work, it should be accompanied by the name of the copyright owner and the date from which the copyright is claimed. This information will also assist those who wish to make contact with the creator of a work in order to obtain their permission to use the work for any purpose.

Example:  © Sean Smith, 2004.  

Permission to use a copyright protected work

Before using copyright material, it is necessary to seek permission from the copyright owner. Permission to use copyright material can be sought directly from the copyright owner or by obtaining a licence from the relevant collective management organisation (organisation representing the copyright owner).  There are some situations where it is not necessary to seek the permission from the copyright owner, i.e. if the work is out of copyright protection and in the public domain or if there are copyright exceptions covering use of the work (see Copyright exceptions).

Copyright Exceptions

Copyright exceptions are limited circumstances where you can use copyright protected works without seeking permission from the copyright owner. The Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 contains a number of copyright exceptions.  One such exception is “fair dealing", under this exception you are allowed to copy limited extracts of a work provided the use is for non-commercial purposes that will not prejudice the interests of the copyright owner.  Such use must also be accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement identifying the author and title of the work.  Copying all or a large amount of a work is not considered fair dealing.  

Copyright Infringement and Enforcement

Copyright infringement occurs when a person carries out the following acts, without the permission of the copyright owner or without obtaining a licence:

  • makes a copy of a work,
  • makes a work available to the public
  • makes an adaptation of a work

The owner of a work can take legal action against a person who infringes their copyright. 

Copyright law in the EU and Internationally

In the EU, copyright is legislated at individual Member State level. The EU sets the copyright framework within which Member States operate through a number of EU Directives. Ireland adheres to these through the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 (CRRA). 

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. These international agreements and treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva.  Further details can be found on the WIPO website.

Related websites 

Intellectual Property Office of Ireland

World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO)