Know your rights when it comes to copyright

  1. What is copyright?

Copyright is the intellectual property (IP) right, which protects the use of any piece of work or idea that has been expressed physically (i.e. in words, pictures or sounds).

In the UK the relevant law is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which states that if your work is to be protected by copyright law, it must be original (the product of your own skill and creation and not a replication of another’s work) and tangible (expressed in a physical form).

  1. What does copyright protect?

This protection arises automatically and protects (amongst other things) original written works, photographs and software.

If your work is protected under copyright law, nobody else can use your work without your permission. It prevents others from copying, adapting and putting your work in hard copy or on the internet without your permission and if someone does use your work without your permission, you may be able to pursue them for copyright infringement.

However it also makes sure you are free to sell, licence and use your work as you wish.

  1. Who owns the copyright in my work?

The first creator of a work is usually the owner of the product but if you have an employee that creates a work for your business under copyright then you, as the employer, will be the owner of the product.

However, you need to take care if you commission a third party (e.g. a freelancer) to create work on your behalf because the general rule is that the third party will own the copyright even though you paid for its creation. If you wish to commission work from a third party, it is best to discuss the ownership of the product beforehand and record that agreement in writing.

  1. How do I protect the copyright in my work?

When creating and developing your work always make sure you keep clear records of the versions with a time and date stamp to show you had ownership of the product at that time.

You could also include a ‘copyright notice’ containing the same information along with the © symbol.

  1. How long does copyright protection last?

The duration of copyright depends on a number of factors relating to the type of work you have created.

For example, a piece of literature will be protected until 70 years after your death whereas if you act in a play, any rights relating to that performance are only protected for 50 years.

  1. What can I do if someone else owns the copyright in the work they have produced for me?

You can ask the person who owns the product to assign it to you by law.

If they agree, it is advisable to record the assignment in a deed (a legal document) to ensure that ownership is transferred to you in its entirety.  After an assignment, you will become the legal owner.

If the other person doesn’t want to assign the full legal rights to you but you still wish to use the copyrighted work, you may be able to licence the work from the owner usually on the basis of paying a fee.

For advice or assistance with assigning intellectual property rights, consult a legal firm with an acknowledged expertise in IP issues.

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