Business Law & Compliance

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What to know about copyright

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What is copyright? 

Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works, such as literature, art, music, sound recordings, films and broadcasts, from being copied or used without the permission of the copyright owner. Copyright protects the form in which ideas are expressed, and not the ideas themselves.

Do I need to apply for copyright to get protection? 

No. There is no formal process to follow to obtain copyright protection in the UK, it automatically applies to all works recorded in any form provided that they conform to certain requirements and cannot be registered. There are a number of so-called copyright registries offering copyright registration and ‘copyrighting’, but they are not official and are of questionable value.

Do I need to keep any records relating to my copyright work?

Yes. Although not required by law, you should keep precise records so that you can prove your copyright and the date of the work that it relates to, in case you need to take enforcement action later on. You could do this by posting a dated copy of the work to yourself via Royal Mail Special Delivery (leaving it unopened) and by retaining earlier drafts and versions. This may help to prove that the work was created and not copied.

How long does copyright last for?

Copyright lasts for a set period, which is usually the life of the author plus 70 years from the end of the calendar year of their death.

Can my business use the © symbol in its copyright works?

Whenever you publish copyright works or make them available to third parties, you should always assert your copyright by including:

  1. The © symbol;
  2. The name of the copyright owner; and
  3. The year of publication.

Although this isn’t essential, it will let others know that it is a copyright work and who to approach should they need to ask permission to use the work.

Can copyright be sold?

Yes, but it’s often not a straight forward process and you should always consult a specialist intellectual property lawyer.

My business uses copied software and/or uses licensed software on more computers than the licence allows for. Is this a problem?

Yes. Copyright infringement is widely regarded as theft in the ‘copyright industries’, which include publishers, record companies, film studios and software houses. Copyright owners have shown an increased willingness over recent years to take enforcement action and there have been a number of claims for damages and criminal prosecutions.

Who owns the copyright to work produced by my employees? 

If you have work created for your business by other people, such as employees, consultants or other businesses providing services to your business (such as marketing copy writers), you should make sure that the copyright – and all other intellectual property rights – are assigned to your business. Alternatively, if you are happy that you don’t own the rights, you should make sure that your business has a perpetual licence to use them.

You should include in your employees’ contracts of employment details of who owns the intellectual property rights in any works they create.

Natasha Maddock is a solicitor with Riverview Solicitors.

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