How to make the most of copyright protection

Bulb illustration with copyright symbol in centre

If you’ve put an original idea on record, you’ve automatically created copyright protection for it – but how can you prevent its misuse, and avoid infringing the copyright of others? The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service explain

Copyright law protects your original idea, so long as you’ve recorded it, for example, on paper, or in a photo or computer code. You don’t have to apply or pay a fee for copyright protection as it comes into being automatically when you create an original work, whether you mark it with the symbol (©) or not.

You should, though, keep copies of the original work, drafts etc, and dated records of when it was disclosed to others. Copyright gives you automatic control over the rights to copy, perform, broadcast or adapt it, with few exceptions. The IoD’s Information and Advisory Service (IAS) explains how copyright operates, and how you can benefit.

Who owns a piece of copyright?

Copyright normally belongs to whoever creates the work – the ‘author’ – or to the employer if an employee creates it as part of their job. But businesses often don’t realise that copyright still belongs to the author, even if the business commissioned and paid for it, unless the author assigns the copyright and other intellectual property (IP) to the business. For example, if you commission a design agency to create your website, unless stated otherwise in a written contract, the agency will own the copyright and any other IP, such as trademarks or patents.

What are the advantages?

You can license your work for a fixed fee and royalties when it is reproduced or used, and sell your copyright or bequeathe it in your will – but ensure any agreement
is professionally drafted and in writing. Copyright prevents unauthorised use for your lifetime, plus an additional 25 years for published layouts, 50 for broadcasts or 70 for written work.

What can I do if it’s breached?

Copyright protection applies automatically in most countries, and if yours is infringed outside the UK you can usually enforce it through treaties such as the Berne Convention of 1886. There are even services that will monitor the media, including the internet, and alert you if it is being used elsewhere. If you suspect someone is using your work, check the licences register to see if anyone has licensed it or is in the process of applying for one (see for details). You can look to have an application stopped or claim any licence fee that’s been paid. You are responsible for defending your copyright against infringement, and though not necessary, you may wish to add the copyright symbol or “copyright –all rights reserved”, your name and year of creation, to emphasise that copyright exists.

How do I make sure I’m not infringing copyright myself?

If a work belongs to another party, you cannot use it without permission – with some exceptions for private study, teaching and reviews. To use a protected work you should agree a licence with the owner, acquire the copyright, or prove it is within those exceptions outlined above. Using someone’s copyright without permission, also known as “IP infringement”, could lead to a fine, prison or both.

To find out more about the Information and Advisory Service, visit
Call 020 7451 3100 or email here

Could the IAS help you?

The IAS provides IoD members with free business intelligence and advice to help them run their companies more efficiently and successfully.

The Business Information Service is able to investigate questions on behalf of members and supply them with valuable information ranging from market forecasts and industry trends to trading abroad and employee salaries.

The Directors’ Advisory Service provides confidential, independent advice from specialists on issues ranging from raising finance to board and shareholders’ disputes.

Members can receive prompt and confidential business, personal tax and legal advice through using the IoD’s telephone helplines.

IoD members are entitled to 25 enquiries a year to the Business Information Service, 4 sessions with an IoD adviser, 25 calls to both the legal helpline and the tax helpline

About author

Hannah Gresty

Hannah Gresty

Until she left the magazine in August 2019, Hannah Gresty was the assistant editor of Director. She previously worked on a local news website and at a fashion PR company before joining the Director team as editorial assistant in 2016.

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