Copyright – Basic facts about Copyright

A concise guide to copyright so your small business remains within the law and safe

Copyright – Basic facts about Copyright

Using copyright material

Copyright is a type of intellectual property and, like physical property, cannot generally be used without the owner`s permission. Of course, the copyright owner may decide not to give permission for use of his or her work.

How do I get permission to copy or use copyright material?

Normally by approaching the copyright owner, but there are a number of organisations that act collectively for groups of copyright owners in respect of particular rights and which may offer “blanket” licences to users. Further information is available directly from these organisations.

Can I do anything if I think I am being charged too much to use copyright material?

If an individual copyright owner has offered to license use of his/her copyright work, you can try and negotiate terms and conditions that are acceptable to you, but the final terms and conditions must be accepted by the copyright owner also. Where copyright owners act collectively to license use of their copyright works, you may, however, be able to seek an independent ruling on the terms and conditions of a licence, including how much you must pay, by applying to the Copyright Tribunal. Although the members of the Tibunal are appointed by ministers and the secretariat of the Tribunal is provided by Copyright Directorate in the Patent Office, the Tribunal makes its decisions independently of Government.

Do I always need permission to copy or use copyright material?

No, there are certain exceptions to the rights given to the copyright owner. For example, limited use of works may be possible for non-commercial research and private study, criticism or review, reporting current events, judicial proceedings and teaching in schools. But if you are copying large amounts of material and/or making multiple copies then you may still need permission. Also it is generally necessary to include an acknowledgement of the name of the copyright work and its author.

But if I’ve bought something, can’t I use it however I like?

Just buying a copy of a book, CD, video, computer program, etc. does not necessarily give you the right to make further copies (even for private use) or play or show them in public. The right to do these things will generally remain with the copyright owner, whose permission you would need. You should note that photocopying a work, scanning a work to produce an electronic copy and downloading a copy of a work which is in an electronic form (eg. on a CD-ROM or an on-line database) all involve copying the work so that permission to copy is generally needed.

But if I have permission, ie. a licence, to use a work, can`t I use it however I like?

Not unless the licence you have allows any use of the work. Often a copyright owner will only give permission for some uses of a work, eg. publication of a photograph in a particular newspaper, and, if you want to use the work in any other way, eg by publishing the photograph in a magazine, you will need to seek further permission.

Claiming and Enforcing Copyright

Copyright is automatic in the UK and most of the rest of the world. It is essentially a private right so decisions about use of a copyright work and how to enforce copyright are generally for a copyright owner to take for him or herself.

Do I have to mark my work to claim copyright?

Although a few countries require that a work be marked with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication, this is not essential in most countries, including the UK. However, marking in this way may assist in copyright infringement proceedings.

How can I prove originality in my work?

Ultimately this is a matter for the courts to decide. However, it may help copyright owners to deposit a copy of their work with a bank or solicitor or send a copy of their work to themselves by special delivery (which gives a clear date stamp on the envelope), leaving the envelope unopened on its return; this could establish that the work existed at this time. (Further details of special delivery should be available at Post Offices).

What can I do if my work is used without my permission?

Although you are not obliged to do so it will usually be sensible, and save time and money, to try to resolve the matter with the party you think has infringed your copyright. If you cannot do this, then you may need to go to court. Before doing so, you should consider obtaining legal advice. Courts may grant a range of remedies, such as injunctions (to stop the other person making use of the material), damages for infringement, or orders to deliver up infringing goods. If infringing copies are being imported from outside the European Economic Area, you may ask HM Customs and Excise to stop them.

Isn’t copyright infringement a criminal offence?

Deliberate copyright infringement may be a criminal offence. If the copyright infringement is on a large scale (e.g. pirate or counterfeit copies of CDs are circulating) then it is worth informing the police or your local trading standards department. They can decide whether action by them, including possible prosecution, is justified.

Will my material be protected overseas?

Usually, but not invariably. The UK is a member of several international conventions in this field, notably the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC). Copyright material created by UK nationals or residents is protected in each member country of the conventions by the national law of that country. Most countries belong to at least one of the conventions, including all the Western European countries, the USA and Russia. A full list of the conventions and their member countries may be obtained from the Copyright Directorate. Protection overseas can also arise from obligations in the agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which forms part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement.

What about marking my work and enforcing copyright when I put it on a web site?

Generally, when you put your work on a web site, it is probably a good idea to mark each page of the web site with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. In addition, you could include information on your web site about the extent to which you are content for others to use your copyright material without permission. Although material on a web site is protected by copyright in the same way as material in other media, you should bear in mind that web sites are accessible from all over the world and, if material on your web site is used without your permission, you would generally need to take action for copyright infringement where this use occurs.

Copyright and the Internet

Under UK law (the position in other countries may differ) copyright material sent over the Internet or stored on web servers will generally be protected in the same way as material in other media. So anyone wishing to put copyright material on the Internet, or further distribute or download such material that others have placed on the Internet, should ensure that they have the permission of the owners of rights in the material.

Generally, when you put your work on a web site, it is probably a good idea to mark each page of the web site with the international © mark followed by the name of the copyright owner and year of publication. In addition, you could include information on your web site about the extent to which you are content for others to use your copyright material without permission. Although material on a web site is protected by copyright in the same way as material in other media, you should bear in mind that web sites are accessible from all over the world and, if material on your web site is used without your permission, you would generally need to take action for copyright infringement where this use occurs.

Performers’ rights

Performing artists are granted rights lasting for 50 years in relation to:

  • broadcasting and recording of their live performances;
  • copying, distribution, renting and lending of recordings of their performances; and
  • broadcasting, and other communication to the public by electronic transmission (including in on demand services) of sound recordings of their performances; and,
  • playing in public sound recordings of their performances.

These rights are related to copyright and similar considerations to those outlined above apply to those using material protected by performers` rights and to performers wishing to enforce their rights.


Copyright Facts business advice, Crown Copyright © 2004-2014

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