Copying software and copyright
Copying software and copyright

The following TMT practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Copying software and copyright
  • Brexit
  • The legal framework
  • Which parts of computer programs can be protected?
  • How long does copyright last?
  • Who owns copyright in software?
  • What is a software owner entitled to do with it?
  • Types of copying
  • Authorised copying
  • Resale of second-hand software
  • More...

This Practice Note examines legal and practical issues relating to the copying of software. It sets out software copyright protections under copyright law to combat unauthorised copying of software and explores the extent to which software can be copied lawfully. It further explores developments planned in the area of copyright protection that are likely to have an impact on the copying of software.


On 31 January 2020, the UK ceased to be an EU Member State and entered an implementation period, during which it continues to be subject to EU law and remains part of the EU internal market. For further guidance, see Practice Notes: Brexit—IP rights—Copyright and Brexit—introduction to the Withdrawal Agreement.

The legal framework

Computer programs may be eligible for copyright protection as ‘literary works’ under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA 1988). Other regulations relevant to the protection of rights in software include:

  1. the Copyright (Computer Programs) Regulations 1992, SI 1992/3233—these amended CDPA 1988 regarding copyright protection of computer programs

  2. the Copyright and Rights in Databases Regulations 1997 (Database Regs 1997)—these amended CDPA 1988 regarding copyright and measures relating to the prevention of unauthorised extraction of the contents of a database and unauthorised re-utilisation of those contents

  3. the Electronic Commerce Directive (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, SI 2002/2013—these implemented an EU Directive regarding information society services, in particular electronic commerce

  4. the Copyright and

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