Copyright FAQs

Last updated: 4 April 2018

Estimated reading time: 25 minutes

Many companies are mystified by the different types of intellectual property protection and what kinds of creations and materials it can apply to. As a supplement to our general Intellectual Property FAQs, here we’re delving deeper into how and why copyright arises in UK law with our Copyright FAQs.

Jump to individual copyright FAQs:

  1. General
    1. What does copyright mean?
    2. What material can be copyrighted?
    3. What types of things can’t be copyrighted?
    4. Can copyright be registered in the UK?
    5. How much does it cost to copyright something?
    6. What does ‘subsistence of copyright’ mean?
    7. What are the exceptions to copyright?
  2. Copyright law
    1. What copyright laws are there in the UK?
    2. What rights does the law grant a copyright holder?
  3. Rights and ownership
    1. Can copyright be held by more than one person?
    2. Does the owner or the creator of the work own the copyright?
    3. What are moral rights and how do they apply to copyright?
    4. What are performers’ rights?
    5. What are economic rights?
    6. Who owns the copyright in sound recordings?
    7. If you’ve been commissioned to create work, who owns the copyright?
    8. What are orphan works?
    9. Can you get international copyright protection? How do you protect your copyright overseas?
  4. Managing copyright
    1. How long does a copyright last for in the UK?
    2. How long is copyright on images and photos valid for?
    3. Can copyright be renewed or extended?
    4. Can copyright be sold, assigned or transferred?
    5. What does licensing copyright mean?
    6. How can you make money from a copyrighted work?
    7. How do you search for UK copyrights?
    8. What is fair dealing in copyright law?
    9. What is fair use in copyright law?
    10. Can copyright be inherited?
    11. What is the Artist’s Resale Right?
  5. Copyright protection and infringement
    1. Why do you need copyright protection?
    2. When do you need a specialist copyright solicitor for legal advice?
    3. What is copyright infringement? What are acts of primary infringement?
    4. What are acts of secondary infringement?
    5. What civil remedies are available for copyright infringement?
    6. What criminal remedies are available for copyright infringement?
    7. What happens if you break copyright law by infringing someone else’s copyright?
    8. What happens if someone infringes your copyright?
    9. Who can use copyright work without permission? How do you check whether their use is permitted?
    10. How do you get permission to use copyright material?
    11. What happens if you want to use a copyright work but don’t know who owns the copyright?
    12. How do you use a copyright disclaimer?
    13. When can you use the copyright symbol?

General

What does copyright mean?

Copyright is a legal right granted to the author or creator of original work. The holder of a copyright has the right to prevent others from copying the work they have created.

What material can be copyrighted?

A variety of intellectual property can be copyrighted, including:

  • Original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work (including illustration and photography)
  • Original non-literary written work, such as software, web content
  • Databases, provided the creator can show they own the intellectual creation such that they conducted the research, collated the data, and arranged the information
  • Sound and music recordings
  • Film and television recordings
  • Broadcasts
  • The layout of published editions of written, dramatic, and musical work

What types of things can’t be copyrighted?

You can’t gain copyright protection for single words, titles, or names because these don’t amount to literary works.

Similarly, any work which lacks originality can’t be copyrighted. This means work which isn’t deemed to be the product of sufficient skill and labour. Examples of this include pools coupons, calendars, and competition cards.

Generally speaking, it is not possible to copyright ideas.

Can copyright be registered in the UK?

Yes – you can register your copyright with the UK Copyright Service (the UK©CS). This is a registration facility which allows you to easily evidence your ownership in the work, so if you do take action for infringement of copyright, it is easier to prove.

However, copyright is an automatic right that arises in the work. You therefore don’t need to register the right. Instead, you can evidence your legal right as an author by using a © with your name and year of creation on the work but it isn’t necessary to include this symbol to benefit from the protection of copyright.

How much does it cost to copyright something?

Since copyright is automatically protected under UK law, it doesn’t cost anything to gain the protection unless you want to register the copyright in which case, a charge is applied. If you seek to register copyright with the UK©CS, the charges are calculated for each piece of work you are seeking to protect. These are:

  • £42.50 per work for registration for 5 years;
  • £72.50 per work for registration for 10 years; or
  • £19.50 per work for updates to an existing registration.

If someone infringes your copyright, you will need to take legal action against the infringing party. If the other party doesn’t cease the infringing activity, or disputes that the copyright belongs to you, for example, you will need to initiate proceedings through either the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) or the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC). This will be a costly process but it’s necessary to prevent continued infringement of your copyright, particularly if mediation fails to resolve the dispute.

What does ‘subsistence of copyright’ mean?

Subsistence of copyright means the copyright exists and is valid and enforceable under UK law. For copyright to subsist, the work must:

  • Be recorded in some way;
  • Fall into one of the categories of protected work;
  • Qualify for protection; and
  • The term of copyright must not have expired.

What are the exceptions to copyright?

There are certain circumstances in which copyright doesn’t apply; meaning copying of work without authorisation isn’t unlawful.

Exceptions to copyright include:

  • Copying limited extracts of work for non-commercial research or private study, provided you’re genuinely studying.
  • Copying of text and data mining in the analysis of trends and other useful information, provided the person doing the analysis has lawful access to the information and it’s for non-commercial uses.
  • Copying for criticism, review, or quotation, in order to report on current event. However, this excludes photographs.
  • Copying of work in any medium if done to illustrate a point for educational purposes.
  • Performing, playing, or showing copyright work in an educational establishment for educational purposes.
  • Recording a TV programme or radio broadcast for non-commercial educational purposes in an educational establishment, unless the holder of the copyright has created a licence in respect of the work, in which case a licence would be required to use the work. This can be checked via the ERA.
  • Making photocopies on behalf of an educational establishment for the purpose of non-commercial instruction, unless the holder of the copyright has created a licence in respect of the work, in which case a licence would be required to use the work. Again you can check the licencing status on the ERA.
  • Copying work if you are disabled (for example, you have a physical or mental impairment) which prevents you from accessing copyrighted material which you have lawful access to or ownership of.
  • Educational establishments and charity organisations which make accessible format-copies of copyright work on behalf of disabled people.
  • The recording of a broadcast in a domestic premise to view/listen at a later time, provided it’s for private and domestic use.
  • Using a limited amount of copyright material for parody, caricature, or pastiche, to the effect that the use is ‘fair dealing’ (see below).
  • Cultural and heritage organisations digitising work which they hold and displaying it on their website for non-commercial use, provided the work is orphan work (i.e. one or more of the copyright holders is unknown or can’t be found).

As mentioned earlier, some of these exceptions will only apply if there’s ‘fair dealing’. This requires consideration of whether the use of the copyright work is lawful or whether it infringes copyright. This is a question of fact, degree and impression because you need to consider ‘how would a fair-minded and honest person have dealt with the work?’.

Factors which will impact on your answer include:

  • What impact your use will have in the market for the original work – for example, whether the owner lose value or profitability because of your use.
  • The amount of work you’ve taken or copied because it’s not reasonable and appropriate, then it’s fairer to use less.

Copyright law

What copyright laws are there in the UK?

The main law which governs copyrights is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

In addition to setting out the rights of the copyright holder, this Act sets out requirement for work to be deemed ‘protected work’, what can be done in relation to protected works, and the remedies for an infringement of copyright.

There is also case law which supplements legislation, for example, by detailing what ‘fair dealing’ is when considering whether someone’s use of copyright material without permission is lawful or unlawful.

What rights does the law grant a copyright holder?

UK law gives the creator of protected work an automatic right to control the way their material is used. This means that no one else can lawfully copy the work without permission.

The law does set out various exceptions in which your protected work may be copied. However, these exceptions apply in limited circumstances as there must be fair dealing. See more about this in our question above, What are exceptions to copyright?

Rights and ownership

Can copyright be held by more than one person?

Yes – copyright can be held by two or more authors who’ve contributed to the work in a manner which isn’t distinct from the other creators. This also applies to broadcasts which have been made by two or more people. In such circumstances, every author’s consent is needed when someone wishes to use the copyright material.

If there are two or more authors who’ve contributed to the work in a manner which is distinct or separate, copyright is created separately with respect to each of these distinct parts. For example, if one author wrote the lyrics to a song whilst the other wrote the music, and someone wanted to use the music only, only the consent of the author who wrote the music is needed.

Does the owner or the creator of the work own the copyright?

The author/creator of the work is usually the first owner of copyright. This means the person who created the work will be the copyright holder.

However, an exception to this is if the work is created by an employee, in the course of employment. In which case, the employer will be the first owner of the work (provided there is no agreement to indicate otherwise).

Similarly, if you commission work to be created for you, the copyright holder will be the person or organisation that creates the work for you. An exception applies if you enter an agreement with that person/organisation that agrees you’ll be the copyright owner once the work has been created.

What are moral rights and how do they apply to copyright?

Moral rights are rights in work that are automatically granted to the creator of work, which no one else can claim. They exist to protect the value of certain work other than their economic value and intended to reflect the emotional or intellectual investment a person may have made in creating the work. These rights can remain even after the creator’s death.

Moral rights are only available for literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and film, as well as some performances of this work.

Moral rights give the author the right to be identified as the author/director of the work (often called paternity rights), to object to derogatory treatment of work (often called integrity rights), to object to the false attribution of work, and the right to privacy of certain photographs and films.

All the rights, except the right to object to attribution of work, last for the duration of the author’s lifetime and for 70 years after death. However, the right to object to attribution of work only lasts during the lifetime of the author and until 20 years after death.

Moral rights can exist in work alongside copyright. However, unlike copyright, moral rights can’t be assigned: they can only be waived.

What are performers’ rights?

Performers’ rights are the rights of performers, musicians, singers, and actors, and other similar individuals, to control and exploit their performance. These rights are of particular importance to the entertainment industry.

A performance is a dramatic performance which includes dance and mime, musical performance, readings, recitations of literary work, performances of a variety act, and other similar work.

Performers’ rights are different to moral rights and copyright. A key difference is that performers’ rights are important for individuals who don’t own the copyright in the work performed. These rights give the performer and the person(s) they have an exclusive recording contract with, control over the exploitation of a performance. This is done by requiring these individuals’ consent for use of performance, and also making it an offence to deal with or use illicit recordings for example.

Performers’ rights grant the right holder three basic proprietary rights:

  • Reproduction right
  • Distribution right
  • Rental and lending right

Performers’ rights will therefore be infringed if the performance is recorded (or a copy of the recorded performance is made) for use which isn’t private or domestic. Similarly, performers’ right can be infringed if anyone distributes a copy of the recording, and/or when the recording is rented or lent to the public.

They are also granted the following non-proprietary rights:

  • Right to consent to recording of live performances
  • Right to consent to the use of recordings

Distinguished from moral rights, performers’ rights can be assigned and licenced. They can also be bequeathed to multiple beneficiaries.

What are economic rights?

Economic rights are rights which allow you to obtain a financial reward from your creative work, when it’s used by others.

You can charge a fee to anyone who:

  • Copies your work
  • Rents or lends your work
  • Shows, plays, or performs your work in public
  • Broadcasts your work to the public (including through the internet)
  • Makes an adaptation of your work (including a translation of your work)

You can also take action to prevent someone from doing any of the above.

To gain a financial reward from your work, you may charge an initial cost, or enter a licensing arrangement in which you receive periodic payment.

Who owns the copyright in sound recordings?

Copyright in a sound recording is separate from copyright in the words used in the recording, and the music used in the recording.

What this means is that the copyright in the actual sound recording is owned by the record producer. However, the composer of music will be the owner of copyright in the music, whilst the writer of lyrics will be the copyright owner of the lyrics.

If you’ve been commissioned to create work, who owns the copyright?

If you are commissioned to create protected work, you are the copyright owner under UK law. The only exception to this will be where your contract with the commissioning party states they are the owner of the copyright (instead of you). It is therefore important to check the contract so you are aware of when such terms of agreement are included.

What are orphan works?

Orphan works mean any copyright protected work for which the author/creator is unknown or untraceable.

For work to qualify as orphan work, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) requires a ‘diligent search’ to be conducted. Once satisfied, the IPO will grant a licence in relation to use of this orphan work. For more information on orphan works, see our answer to What happens if you want to use a copyright work but don’t know who owns the copyright?.

If you’re interested in using or accessing orphan work already being licenced, you can check the orphan work register.

Can you get international copyright protection? How do you protect your copyright overseas?

All countries have copyright protection, but there is no single registration to automatically protect your copyright internationally. Whilst the law on copyright differs in each country, around 172 countries have signed the Berne Convention which agrees a minimum set of standards for the protection of copyright in literary and artistic works. This applies to all of its member states and their nationals.

However, for countries not party to the convention, your copyright protection will be dependent on the national laws of that country. It may be that you need to comply with certain formalities for your work to be protected by copyright in a country which isn’t a member of the Berne Convention.

Managing copyright

How long does a copyright last for in the UK?

In the UK, the duration of copyright depends on the type of work which is protected.

Type of work Duration copyright lasts for
Written, dramatic, musical, and artistic work The life of the author and 70 years after the author’s death
Sound and music recording 70 years from the date it is first published
Films The life of the director, screenplay author and composer, and until 70 years after their deaths
Broadcast 50 years from when it is first broadcast
Layout of published editions of written, dramatic, or musical works 25 years from when it is first published

How long is copyright on images and photos valid for?

The duration of copyright on images and photos can be fairly complex and depends on when these works were created.

Date the image or photograph was created or published Duration of copyright
Photographs taken on or after 1 January 1996 These are automatically protected for the life of the photographer plus 70 years.
Photographs taken on or after 1 August 1989 but before or on 31 December 1995 These were originally protected under the 1988 Act for the life of the photographer plus 50 years. Copyright in these works has now been extended by the 1995 Regulations. They are therefore now protected for the life of the photographer plus 70 years.
Photographs taken between 1 June 1957 and 31 July 1989 The length of copyright protection for photographs created in this period depends on whether or not they had been published as at 1 August 1989:

 

  • Photographs published before 1 August 1989

Where the photographer died more than 20 years before publication, copyright will expire 50
years after first publication. In all other cases, copyright will expire 70 years after the death
of the photographer.

  • Photographs which remained unpublished as at 1 August 1989

Where the photographer died before 1 January 1969, copyright expires on 31 December
2039. In all other cases, copyright will expire 70 years after the death of the photographer.

Photographs made before 1st June 1957 These photographs were originally protected for a period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which they were taken (regardless of whether they were published or not).

 

If the photograph was still in copyright as of 1 July 1995 however, the period of copyright was extended to the life of the photographer plus 70 years. If copyright protection had expired before 1 July 1995, there was still the chance to “revive” the photograph. An eligible photograph would then be protected by the new term, ie the photographer’s life plus 70 years.

Can copyright be renewed or extended?

No – it’s not possible to renew or extend your copyright. Once your copyright expires, it’ll become property of the public domain.

Can copyright be sold, assigned or transferred?

Yes – you can sell your copyright. This requires entering a contract in which you state that you’re transferring/selling/assigning your rights in the created work to another party.

In return for this transfer you’ll usually receive a monetary sum which reflects the effort, time, resources and costs you’ve invested in creating that work, as well as its value to the buyer.

If you do sell your copyright, you’ll still have moral rights in the work. The only way to lose these rights is to waive your moral rights by entering an agreement that states you waive all interest and rights in the work.

For more information on moral rights, see our What are moral rights? question.

What does licensing copyright mean?

Licensing copyright means that you can exploit your copyright for financial reward, by granting the right to a licensee.

The licence agreement will be a contract which allows the other person (or party) to use the copyright in the manner specified (for example, to copy a written poem or even perform the poem), to the exclusion of others.

Although moral rights of the work cannot be licensed, the licence agreement will consist of granting the licensee certain economic rights. For example, the licence may allow a licensee to reproduce the work, distribute the work by sale, or rent the work.

Since no-one, other than you and the licensee can use your copyright, the licensee can increase the profit derived from the granted right. And in return for granting this right, you’ll receive a licence fee. Depending on the nature of the right and its use, you may choose a fixed fee or a fee which is a proportion of the profit made by the licensee.

An implied licence would arise if you verbally agree to allow an individual to use your copyright work for certain purposes in exchange for an agreed fee. However, it’s important that you avoid reaching verbal agreements because it can cause uncertainty as to terms. To ensure you have clear terms addressing what rights are granted, what rights and actions are specifically prohibited (for example, sub-licensing), and the fee amount, as well as how the agreement will terminate, it’s best that you enter a written licensing agreement. We can help you with this.

How can you make money from a copyrighted work?

Selling and licencing are two examples of ways in which you can make money from your copyrighted work. It is worth noting however, that, if you decide to sell your copyrighted work, this would mean you lose your right to control how the work is used. To sell your copyright, you need to enter a contract which assigns the rights and title in the copyrighted work to the buyer (or assignee).

Under an agreement to licence the copyrighted work, you are likely to retain the right to use the copyright yourself, but the terms of the agreement would determine this along with what the licensee can and can’t do.

How do you search for UK copyrights?

Since copyrights don’t need to be registered to be enforceable and valid, there is no public or Government register which contains all existing copyrights. As a result, it is not possible to search for UK copyrights on a single database.

One thing you could do is a broad internet search if you’re worried that your work will infringe the copyright of another.

But since copyright specifically protects the work as it is, unless you copied the work, it’s unlikely to infringe on another’s copyright. For example, if you created a piece of music which was the same as another piece created by someone else but your work was created independently of the other piece, there would be no infringement of the first creator’s rights.

You also have the option of searching the database of copyright work which is being licensed. You should bear in mind that this will only include copyrighted work which authors actually want to license. It therefore won’t include all copyrighted work.

What is fair dealing in copyright law?

Fair dealing in copyright law is a defence to a claim of infringement of copyright, as it allows people to use copyright material in circumstances which the law states is ‘fair’.

There are three circumstances in which you can use or reproduce copyrighted work without the author’s permission. These are when:

  • You are using the protected work for the purpose of research or private study
  • You are using the protected work for the purpose of criticism, review, or quotation
  • The protected work is used for the purpose of reporting current events (provided it’s not a photograph)

In order for this defence to be successful, the court will consider the facts of the case when deciding whether or not it can be considered ‘fair’.

Relevant factors identified by the IPO include whether the use of the work negatively impacted on the market of the work, and whether it was reasonable and necessary to take the amount of work which was taken.

What is fair use in copyright law?

In the UK, ‘fair use’ is used interchangeably with ‘fair dealing’. Under UK law, there’s no separate concept of fair use.

However, in some jurisdictions like the US, fair use is distinguished from fair dealing because it’s a broader defence to copyright infringement.

The fair use defence will allow reproduction or use of copyright work in circumstances where it is ‘fair to do so’. When considering if this is fair, there is usually legislation specifying a criteria or list of factors which should be considered.

Can copyright be inherited?

Yes – copyright can be inherited.

If you wish to bequeath your copyright to someone after your death, you should ensure you include specific provisions in your will to explain how you want the copyright to be passed on.

You may want to leave all your copyrights to one beneficiary, or give specific copyrights to different beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries may be individuals, charities, or institutions like galleries or museums.

You can also bequeath multiple beneficiaries a share of copyright in a protected work. Again, it’s essential to include detailed instructions on who the beneficiaries are, and what share they are to be given.

What is the Artist’s Resale Right?

Artist’s resale right is the right granted to authors of original works of art, entitling them to receive a royalty each time their work is resold through an art market professional or auction house.

Original works of art includes paintings, engravings, sculptures, and ceramics.

The royalty, which is calculated on the basis of a European Directive, is payable to the author every time each of the works is resold. This right lasts for the same period as the copyright in the work.

The royalty will only become payable when the sale price reaches or exceeds €1,000. Here’s what percentage royalty is paid for different bands of resale prices:

Resale priceRoyalty
€1,000 – €50,0004%
€50,000.01 – €200,0003%
€200,000.01 – €350,0001%
€350,000.01 – €500,0000.5%
In excess of €500,0000.25%

Some sales are exempt from this right. For example, if the work being resold was bought directly from the artist less than three years prior and is being resold for €10,000 or less, a royalty won’t be payable. Similarly, if the sale is between private individuals, who haven’t used an art market professional or auction, then no royalty is payable. Moreover, sales to public or non-profit making museums also won’t attract royalty payments.

Copyright protection and infringement

Why do you need copyright protection?

You need copyright protection so you can claim against anyone who copies or uses work that you’ve created, without your permission. When you create work, you’ll have invested your own effort, time, and skill into the work. If someone copies or uses this without your permission, this can undermine the value you gain from the work.

When do you need a specialist copyright solicitor for legal advice?

You’ll need a specialist copyright solicitor only in specific circumstances such as when you’re selling your copyright, licensing your copyright, or you believe someone has infringed your copyright.

In the former two circumstances, a specialist intellectual property solicitor can help draft the required documents. Legal advice will ensure that you include all the important terms which protect your interests and the interests of the other party.

With regards to copyright infringement, a specialist IP solicitor can guide you through mediation and litigation to stop the infringement and to obtain a remedy for the infringement.

What is copyright infringement? What are acts of primary infringement?

Copyright infringement is when someone uses or copies a substantial amount of your protected work without your permission.

Acts of primary infringement include:

  • Copying the work
  • Issuing copies of the work to the public
  • Renting or lending the work
  • Performing or showing the work in public
  • Communicating the work to the public

The meaning of ‘substantial’ varies from case to case. Most importantly, the meaning of substantial extends beyond just the amount of work copied because it requires consideration of the importance of the copied extract.

What are acts of secondary infringement?

Secondary infringement refers to activities done in relation to copyright infringement. These include:

  • Importing infringing copies
  • Possessing or dealing with infringing copies
  • Providing means for making infringing copies
  • Transmitting a copyright work over a telecommunications system
  • Permitting premises to be used for an infringing performance
  • Providing apparatus to be brought onto the premises
  • Supplying a sound recording or film of an infringing performance

However, for a person to have committed a secondary infringement, they must have had some (actual or imputed) knowledge of the primary infringement.

What civil remedies are available for copyright infringement?

The court can grant you a variety of remedies if you successfully claim against someone for copyright infringement. These include:

  • An injunction prohibiting further infringement
  • Damages for losses incurred by the infringement
  • An account of profit, i.e. a requirement that anyone who made profit through infringing your copyright transfer that profit to you
  • The right to seize the infringing articles (work)
  • Delivery up of the infringing articles by the infringer

What criminal remedies are available for copyright infringement?

There are some copyright infringements which are considered a criminal offence.

A few examples of activities considered as a criminal offence include acts where someone:

  • Sells or hires an article which is infringing work, and he or she knows or has reason to believe it is infringing work;
  • imports into the UK infringing work for use which isn’t for his or her private and domestic use, and had known or has reason to believe it is infringing work; or
  • possesses infringing work in the course of business, and knows or has reason to believe it is infringing work.

If a person is convicted in the magistrates’ court, the infringer may face up a prison sentence of up to six months, and/or a fine of up to £50,000.

If convicted in the Crown Court, the infringer may face up to 10 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

What happens if you break copyright law by infringing someone else’s copyright?

If you infringe someone else’s copyright, you should take steps to immediately stop infringing that copyright.

Whilst this may resolve the matter, the person may decide to pursue legal action to recover losses they’ve suffered by your infringing activity. If this is the case, it’s extremely important to seek legal advice to assist you through the legal dispute.

In some cases, the person may agree to settle the matter through mediation. This will save legal costs on both sides. However, if the matter progresses to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, you’ll need legal representation to defend yourself.

What happens if someone infringes your copyright?

You should take action to stop the person from infringing your copyright. One way to do this is to ask a solicitor to send a formal letter informing the person that you have copyright in work which has been infringed by the person. This can lead to the other person agreeing to stop infringing your copyright. Indeed, you may decide to license or sell your copyright to the person to exploit your own protected work.

However, you may instead decide to take legal action for the copyright infringement. This will involve initiating legal proceedings either through the IPO or through the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court.

Who can use copyright work without permission? How do you check whether their use is permitted?

No one can use copyright work without permission, unless you fall within one of the exceptions or where there is a defence of fair dealing.

Most copyright work will have a copyright and disclaimer statement. This usually states who owns the copyright. This notice may also include details of what permission the public has in relation to use of the copyright material. If you want to know whether your intended use is permitted, you should locate the copyright and disclaimer statement, and identify whether the use is allowed.

If you are unsure, it’s better to contact the copyright holder or seek legal advice because if you proceed to use the copyright work without permission unlawfully, the right holder can bring legal action against you.

How do you get permission to use copyright material?

If you have found some copyright material which you want to use, it is important that you contact the copyright holder and ask for permission to use the material.

It isn’t uncommon for the copyright holder to expect some monetary consideration for granting you permission. Since your use of the material may detrimentally impact the profitability of the copyright material, the payment usually compensates the copyright holder whilst also allowing them to profit from their work.

What happens if you want to use a copyright work but don’t know who owns the copyright?

If you’ve found copyright work that you want to use but can’t identify the copyright holder, you may still be able to lawfully use the work if the work is considered ‘orphan work’.

In order to determine whether copyright work can be considered orphan work, you need to carry out a diligent search that establishes the copyright holder can’t be identified, or can’t be located if identified. Guidance published by the IPO provides information on how to ensure that a search is deemed to be diligent. In essence, a diligent search requires searching through relevant databases which list copyright owners, national libraries’ indices, advertising in newspaper, and the internet.

Once the criteria of a diligent search have been met, the IPO will issue a non-exclusive licence authorising the use of the orphan work. Your right will be granted only in the UK, and will last for a period of seven years. As well as a licence fee which starts at £20 for one work (and scaling up to £80 for 30 works), there is also a condition to acknowledge the missing copyright owner.

Cultural heritage institutions (like archives, libraries, museums, educational establishments, and public service broadcaster) can make use of orphan works without applying for a licence. Once the institution has carried out a diligent search, they can copy the work and make it accessible to the public (such as through digitisation, preservation, cataloguing or indexing).

How do you use a copyright disclaimer?

A copyright disclaimer (also known as a ‘copyright notice and disclaimer’) consists of:

  • a copyright notice which sets out the copyright position of the material: for example, what people can use the material for, who owns the copyright, and confirms the content is legally copyrighted (if this is the case); and
  • a disclaimer against information or claims made within the content so you are not liable for reliance on the claims contained.

If you wish to include a copyright disclaimer on a website, you can include a special ‘copyright and disclaimer’ page, or place the statements at the bottom of the website.

For other types of work, the statements should be placed anywhere they are visible. For example, place the notice on the inside page of a book, a booklet or insert of a DVD case, or the corner of an image.

When can you use the copyright symbol?

You can use the copyright symbol if you’ve created protected work. This is particularly important if you have made it available to the public. Your copyright symbol might be accompanied by a date and your details, so people can identify you and contact you if they would like your permission to use your copyright material.

What next?

We can help you with all elements of copyright law – from infringements to applications and everything in between. Get in touch with our expert intellectual property solicitors by filling out the form below or calling 0800 689 1700.

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A national law firm

We mainly work remotely, so we can work with you wherever you are. But we can arrange face-to-face meeting at our offices or a location of your choosing.

Our commercial lawyers are based in or close to major cities across the UK, providing expert legal advice to clients both locally and nationally.

Floor 2, Cavendish House, 39-41 Waterloo Street, Birmingham, B2 5PP
Stirling House, Cambridge Innovation Park, Denny End Road, Waterbeach, Cambridge, CB25 9QE
10 Fitzroy Square, London, W1T 5HP
13th Floor, Piccadilly Plaza, Manchester, M1 4BT
Harwell Innovation Centre, 173 Curie Avenue, Harwell, Oxfordshire, OX11 0QG
2-5 Velocity Tower, 1 St Mary’s Square, Sheffield, S1 4LP

Our other locations

Immeuble Danica B, 21, avenue Georges Pompidou, Lyon Cedex 03, Lyon, 69486