Entering competitions and the issues surrounding copyright

Written by | December 22, 2022


Businesses, charities and other entities can find great benefit in running competitions requiring entrants to submit work that they have created specifically for that competition. That work may be in the form of artwork that entrants create in line with the theme of the promotion or written work showcasing the talent of a writer. Such competitions allow participation and engagement and are excellent platforms for the public to get involved.

However, if you plan to enter such competitions then it is important that you are mindful of the intellectual property surrounding your work and how that work may be managed by the receiving party. Original work including literary (such as novels and poems) and artistic work are amongst those types of work that are automatically protected by copyright. Copyright belongs to the author of the work and lasts for up to 70 years from the death of the author.

Whilst copyright is therefore long lasting and automatic (i.e. it does not require registration in the UK), it is important to understand how submitting your work to third parties could affect your rights to use the work in the future. The use of copyright work is commonly authorised through a licence or an assignment. A licence allows the use of the work, often based on the terms of the licence, whereas an assignment changes ownership from one person to another. For a valid assignment to occur, it must be in writing.

Therefore, it is essential that the terms of the competition are closely read and understood before any work is submitted. The terms should stipulate who will own the work and the rights that the receiving party will have. For example, it is possible that the terms may stipulate that if your work is not chosen, then the receiving party will not have any right over the work and all intellectual property will remain with you. However, it is also possible that the terms could suggest that by entering your work into the competition, you grant the receiving party a licence to be able to use the work for certain purpose. Whilst a complete assignment may be argued to be an unfair clause, a licence for limited purpose such as depicting your work for promotion of the competition may well be valid if agreed by you through a validly executed agreement.

Not only is it therefore vital that you closely consider the terms of the agreement, it is also important to understand the protection that copyright affords and (sometimes more importantly) the protection that it does not afford. Copyright protection is limited to the expression of the idea which means that the protection afforded to you is that which subsists in the specific work that you have created. Therefore, the other party can be inspired by your idea and create something similar, whilst not infringing your work at all.

Whilst agreements such as NDAs are not always possible in this context, it is important that you are aware of the limited protection provided by copyright. If your work is crucial to you, then you should not share it with others – especially not without obtaining legal advice beforehand.

Here at Briffa we offer a free 30-minute consultation in which we can discuss any questions that you may have and ensure that you are well placed to get things right. Get in touch with info@briffa.com if you would like to arrange a meeting.

Written by Mohammad Khan – Solicitor

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