The Basics of Copyright

Written by Briffa | September 3, 2021


We hear stories of copyright infringement in the news every day. This often ranges from small to large companies, across a wide range of sectors, including video games, fashion, and photography. Copyright infringement is so frequent and can cause harm to individuals and businesses, but the owners of copyright often do not know their rights and if they can take any course of action.

What is copyright?

Copyright recognises the skill and labour and the ‘creative stamp’ expended by an author in creating a work. Copyright is, put simply, a right to copy a work.

People sometimes talk, confusingly, of “copyrighting their work” but in the UK there is no copyright registration procedure. Instead, in the UK at least, copyright is an unregistered right and copyright is automatically owned by the author of a copyright work, unless they are an employee acting in the course of their employment, in which case their employer automatically owns the copyright which has been created.

Copyright protection lasts up to 70 years from the death of the creator.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright infringement occurs when a whole or substantial part of a copyright work is copied and, if you’re making an infringement claim, you need to show:

  1. A causal link between the two works so that the copyright work, or a substantial part of it, is the source of the infringing work; and
  2. Objective similarity between the infringing work and the copyright work

Copyright Ownership

You should ensure that you own any works that are created by others for you, typically logos, photographs, designs, code and software. These may be created for you by freelance graphic designers, software developers and illustrators. The best way to ensure you own the copyright afterwards is by entering into a written agreement that explicitly states so. If individuals have already created works for your business and have not assigned their intellectual property rights over, we would recommend that you secure an assignment as soon as possible.

Often, once a fee has been paid to a freelancer, the organisation commissioning the freelancer assumes that they now own the copyright, but unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, the copyright created by the designer (even if they were paid to do it) still rests with the designer and only a written agreement can actually transfer or “assign” that copyright to the instructing party.

Next Steps

If you need help with any aspect of copyright, please do get in touch with the friendly team at Briffa who would be very happy to assist.

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