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Making the most of your copyright

As a business owner, you may often create a variety of written or other original works.  These may be your products or support your service delivery, innovations, publicity, marketing campaigns or website.  Such documents and other creations can be valuable intellectual property and therefore represent an asset to your business and may be attractive to your competitors.

You may own the copyright in a range of works, including:

  • literary works: reports, manuals, articles, brochures, newsletters, some software and databases;
  • artistic works: photographs, drawings, paintings, diagrams, some logos;
  • films;
  • broadcasts;
  • sound recordings;
  • dramatic or musical works; and
  • typographical arrangements, including design and layout, of literary, dramatic or musical works.

As the copyright owner, you are entitled to control the use of your works and exploit their value as commercial assets.

Copyright is initially owned by the author of a work which means the:

  • creator of literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works;
  • producer and principal director of films;
  • producer of sound recordings;
  • maker of broadcasts; or
  • publisher of typographical arrangements.

However, unless agreed otherwise, copyright usually passes to and can be exploited by the:

  • employer, where works are created by employees during their employment; or
  • contracted producer of commissioned items.

Copyright arises automatically whenever qualifying works are created or produced. Registration is not required, although certain copyright organisations will register works for a fee.

To attract protection, literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works must be original and written or recorded.  Films, sound recordings and typographical arrangements need not be original but must not be copied from similar works.

Your copyright entitles you to exercise ‘moral’ and ‘economic rights’ over your works.

Moral rights broadly enable you to:

  • identify yourself as the author or creator of your works; and
  • object to any misuse that might distort your works or denigrate your reputation.

Economic rights enable you to benefit and gain commercial value from your works.  Subject to limited exceptions, you are the only person entitled to:

  • make or issue copies, adaptations or alterations;
  • rent out, lend, perform, show or play your works; and
  • communicate them electronically to the public.

Non-commercial or private use by others is permitted, without authorisation, for research, study, recording, reporting, teaching and other purposes.

Copyright duration depends on the type of work.  For literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, copyright protection expires 70 years from the end of the year of the author’s death.

You may sell and transfer some or all of your economic rights over any works or permit others to use them.  Permission is usually granted under a licence, subject to any obligations, restrictions or payments.  You cannot transfer your moral rights but you may waive or refrain from using them.

Copyright is infringed if someone exercises any of your exclusive rights without your permission, misusing a substantive part of your work.  It is essential to protect your rights and manage the use of your valued or confidential works to benefit your business.  The risk of infringement and misuse, in the UK or overseas, may be reduced by notifying others of your copyright ownership and considering a range of steps, including:

  • retaining evidence of your copyright by keeping details of new works or depositing them with a solicitor;
  • registering works voluntarily with copyright organisations;
  • adding standard copyright ownership notices to works: ©;  year of publication; your name;
  • displaying lengthier notices on your website or works, confirming your copyright and restricting use;
  • entering into agreements or licences, permitting customers or associates to receive and use copies of your works for defined purposes, subject to restrictions on distribution, confidentiality, disclosure or other uses;
  • using technical devices to control website copying and printing; and
  • requiring website visitors to register and accept restrictions before downloading copies.

Dermot Callinan, a solicitor specialising in intellectual property, will be able to advise you further on protecting and managing your copyright to optimise the benefit of your works. For more information, please contact dermot.callinan@myerssolicitors.co.uk.

 

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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