What is copyright?

Copyright is defined in the Copyright Act of Trinidad and Tobago as: “a property right which subsists in literary and artistic works that are original intellectual creations in the literary and artistic domain, including in particular-

  • Books, pamphlets, articles, computer programs and other writings;
  • Speeches, lectures, addresses, sermons and other works of the same nature;
  • Dramatic works, dramatico-musical works, pantomimes, choreographic works and other works created for stage productions;
  • Stage productions of works mentioned in paragraph (c);
  • Musical works, with or without accompanying words;
  • Audio-visual works;
  • Works of architecture;
  • Works of drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving, lithography, tapestry and other works of fine art;
  • Photographic works;
  • Works of applied art;
  • Illustrations, maps, plans, sketches, and three-dimensional works relative to geography, topography, architecture or science.”

The works described above are protected by the sole fact of their creation and irrespective of their mode or form of expression. Neither registration of copyright nor the use of the copyright symbol © is required for protection under the Act.

Derivative works such as translations and adaptations, databases and works of mas are also protected under the Act.

The author of a work also has the right to have his name indicated prominently on copies and in connection with any public use of his work, and to object to any distortion or other modification of his work which would be prejudicial to his honour or reputation. Such rights are known as MORAL RIGHTS which exist independently of his copyright, and even where the author is no longer the owner of copyright.

Copyright, as with other property rights, can be assigned or transferred.

The mere fact of owning something does not make you the copyright owner. This is because copyright exists independently of the material on which it is recorded. If you purchased a painting or a book, for example, you would not also own the copyright unless this has been explicitly transferred to you.

What is not Copyrightable

While most printed material and music is readily recognized as copyrighted the following do not enjoy copyright protection:

  • Ideas
  • Facts
  • Works for which copyright has expired
  • Government publications of official texts of a legislative nature
  • Political speeches
  • Blank Forms
  • Words (Slogans are protected by Trademark laws)
  • Verbal presentations where no “fixation” on a medium is done

Any tangible, original form of expression can be copyrighted. Thus theses, as in the case of books (and ebooks), have copyright protection as are papers written for conferences (the verbal presentation, if it is not fixed on a recordable medium such as audio/videotapes, may not be copyrighted), journals or chapters in books.

What rights does the owner of copyright have?

The owner of copyright has the exclusive right to do, authorise, or prohibit the following acts in relation to the work:
(a) Reproduction of the work;
(b) Translation of the work;
(c) Adaptation, arrangement or other transformation of the work; (d) The first public distribution of the original and each copy of the work by sale, rental or otherwise; (e) Rental or public lending of the original or a copy of an audio-visual work, a work embodied in a sound recording, a computer program, a database or a musical work in the form of notation, irrespective of the ownership of the original or copy concerned. (f) Importation of copies of the work, even where the imported copies were made with the authorisation of the owner of copyright; (g) Public display of the original or a copy of the work; (h) Public performance of the work; (i) Broadcasting of the work; (j) Communication to the public of the work.

Duration of copyright

The Copyright Act provides that copyright and moral rights of the author shall be protected during the life of the author and for fifty years after his death. Note, however, that although the author of a work may have died more than fifty years ago, this does not mean that a version of that author’s work that you see in the Library is out of copyright. Even though the original work by the author is out of copyright, a publisher may then add original material to the work, for example, a commentary, or he may modify the layout. That publisher would then hold the copyright for his version of the work.

Copying from the Internet

Although the internet is not explicitly mentioned in the Copyright Act, material found on the web cannot be copied for distribution without the permission of the author. You are therefore strongly advised to obtain the author’s permission before copying such material for distribution. You should also seek the author’s permission before posting a link to such material.

How much of a work may I copy without permission?

While the Copyright Act provides that a “short part of a published work” may be copied without copyright permission under specified exceptions, the term “short part” has not been defined in the Act, and there are no local High Court decisions that provide guidance on this subject. International practice suggests that it is not merely a question of quantity but also of whether the section is considered integral to the work. You are therefore strongly urged to obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Penalties for copyright infringement

The maximum penalty for infringement under the Copyright Act is TT$250,000 each personally to the offender and a further TT$250,000 to the institution. In addition a custodial sentence of up to ten years may be imposed. While copyright law can be complex specifically as it relates to universities, learning and research, staff and students are not immune from prosecution.

Copyright and Theses

Paragraphs 2.8 to 2.10 of Part I of The UWI Policy on Intellectual Property Management and Commercialisation are reproduced hereunder:

2.8 Where a student produces a work based on research or other scholarly activity conducted under the supervision of a staff member and the supervision of that work is a requirement of the student's academic programme, then, the University will not claim proprietary rights in the work except in the circumstances described in paragraph 2.10.

2.9 Where a student has proprietary rights in a work, the University shall receive a non-exclusive, royalty-free licence to -:

(a) make copies or representations of the work for academic purposes within the University;
(b) circulate the work as part of the University library collection;
(c) at the request of other Universities or of other institutions approved by the University, make single copies of a thesis deposited in the University library;
(d) make available the work to the National Library of a Contributing Country;
(e) publish an abstract of any work that is a student thesis.

2.10 The University may claim proprietary rights in a work produced by a student where -
(a) the staff involvement in the creation of the work is substantial and the University desires to exercise its rights based on this involvement; or
(b) the work is part of a larger work over which the University intends to exercise its rights; or
(c) the use of the facilities, equipment or other resources of the University are substantially in excess of the norm for educational purposes.

The properly authorised use by students of computers, facilities, equipment or other University resources or the use of University libraries to create works shall not constitute a basis for a claim by the University of proprietary rights in such works.”

How to Obtain Permission

You need to approach the copyright owner to find out whether you need his permission to use the work. The name of the copyright owner is normally provided somewhere on the work. The copyright owner can either be contacted directly or through a copyright licensing organization. You may ask the copyright owner for a license to use the work, and you are free to negotiate the fee for such a license. A sample letter that can be used to request permission to use copyrighted works is shown below:

Dear Sirs,

I am a student/Faculty member (delete as applicable) of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago.

I am seeking your permission to copy/quote from/ incorporate into my online course materials/thesis/book (delete as applicable) the following piece:

Title of work:
Publication year:
Page numbers / portion of work to be used:
Number of copies:
Intended use:

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any additional information. I can be contacted via email at: (insert)



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