Illustration: Davide Bonazzi
11. Do I always need to get permission to use other people’s work? Is it enough to credit the author/artist?
1. What is copyright and what can be protected by copyright?
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, as well as layouts or typographical arrangements of published work, sound recordings, film and broadcast.
Copyright gives the creator of the work the exclusive rights to copy, license, rent, lend, perform, show the work to the public, make an adaptation of the work or translate a work. Moral rights, which are similar to copyright, also give the creator the right to be identified as the author of the work; not to have their work changed and the right to object to derogatory treatment of their work. The idea is that by giving authors the right to control the use of their work they can make a living from it and will be motivated to produce new work. What makes copyright a complex mechanism is that it has to encourage learning and the spread of knowledge while securing economic and personal rights to authors and creators. Striking the correct balance is one of the major challenges of copyright law.
It is important to remember that copyright does not protect ideas; it protects expressions of ideas that are fixed in a permanent form, for example, written down or recorded. It might be useful to mark your work with the copyright symbol, your name and the date of creation. However, this is not necessary: copyright arises automatically, no formalities such as registration or copyright marks are required.
2. How long does copyright last?
In the UK copyright expires 70 years after the death of the creator for written, artistic, musical and film work. However, for broadcasts it is 50 years from when the broadcast is made whilst for sound recordings and performers’ rights in sound recordings the term has been extended to 70 years from publication.
The time period runs from the end of the calendar year in which the author(s) died or from when the broadcast or sound recording was made. When copyright expires, the work enters the public domain, meaning that it can be used and re-used for free by anyone without the need to get permission from the copyright owner. You can find more information about the public domain here.
If the creator of the work is unknown then the copyright expires 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made, or when it was first made available to the public.
3. How do I copyright my work? Is there a formal procedure?
There is no formal registration procedure for copyright; as long as your work qualifies for copyright by being original, it obtains protection as soon as it is in a permanent or fixed form. In UK law, originality is defined as using your own skill, labour, judgement and effort. In other words, what this means is that the work must not be copied from another work; it should originate from the author.
There are steps which you might take to help protect your copyright, should it ever be disputed. For example, you could send it to yourself by special delivery post and leave it sealed. With some types of work – such as scripts and photos – it can be sufficient to send it to yourself by email. There are also copyright registration services available for a fee, which act as similar evidence. However, nowadays this is not as relevant as it used to be, since with computer records the dating of production is almost always possible.
4. Can more than one person have copyright in something?
Yes. Works that are created by more than one person are generally considered to have joint ownership of the copyright. For example, in the UK the first copyright owners of a film are the producer and the principal director. In some cases, different people hold the copyright for different parts of the work, for example a song can have copyright in its arrangement, tune, lyrics, sound recording and performance whilst if the music is packaged into a compact disc (CD) the artwork can have copyright. The copyright in these various elements can be owned by different people.
5. Who owns the copyright in my work? (e.g. freelancer / employer, photographer / model)
If you create something during your employment, usually it is your employer who owns the copyright in that work. However, this will depend on the contents of your employment contract.
A freelance photographer or writer, for example, usually owns the copyright of the photographs that he takes or the work she produces. However, again, the terms of the contract can change this. Therefore, if the production of your work is handled through a contract you should carefully check all the clauses to understand who owns the copyright and under what terms.
6. How do I sell / license my copyright? What is Creative Commons?
As the copyright owner in your work, you can sell or license it to others, which could be done through a contractual agreement.
Some creators choose to join a collecting society, who then licenses and collects royalties on their behalf; these include:
Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS), Artists’ Collecting Society (ACS), Broadcasting Data Services (BDS), British Equity Collecting Society (BECS), Christian Copyright Licensing International United Kingdom, Christian Video Licensing International United Kingdom, Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), Design and Artists Copyright Society (DACS), Directors UK (D-UK), Educational Recording Agency (ERA), Motion Picture Licensing Company (MPLC), Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA), Open University Worldwide (OUW), PRS for Music, Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL), Publishers Licensing Society (PLS)
Alternatively, you can visit the Copyright Hub website which sets out information on how to get permission to use somebody else’s work, or how copyright relates to your own work.
Another option is Creative Commons (CC), which are licences that explicitly encourage the free re-use of work. By distributing your work under a Creative Commons licence, you will allow the public to re-use it for free. This should help the dissemination of your work and more generally the spread of knowledge and creativity. For example, on the Copyright User website, we chose to release all content under the most flexible CC licence: Attribution 3.0 (CC BY). This means that all the materials you find on this website (videos, illustrations, texts, etc.) can be re-used on the condition that the authors of this website are acknowledged (credited). You can find more information about how to license your work here, and about the Creative Commons licences here.
7. When I sell my work, do I still hold the copyright?
In the UK, when you sell an analogue copy of your work (e.g. a CD, a DVD, a book), you cannot control the distribution of that physical copy any longer (this is called the exhaustion of rights). This means that the buyer may resell or lend that copy without your consent. However, you still hold both your exclusive and moral rights. So, for example, if you produce and sell an album, the person who buys it can then resell or lend it to his or her liking. But if the buyer wants to use some of the tracks in the production of new work (e.g. a video), he or she has to get your permission and credit you, as you still hold exclusive and moral rights.
Also, the exhaustion of rights does not apply to online distribution, meaning that if you purchase something online (e.g. a song from iTunes), you cannot resell or lend the digital copy of that work. Usually in these cases the end-user licence states what you can or cannot do with that work.
8. Do I have copyright in my work in other countries?
Copyright law is territorial, meaning that the rules that matter are the rules of your own country. However, there are international agreements which protect your work under the laws of most other countries.
Signatories to the Berne Convention (UK has been a signatory since 1887) recognise the copyright of works of authors from other signatory countries in the same way as it would recognise the copyright of its own nationals. This means that UK copyright law will apply to a work published or performed in the UK, although it may have originated in Italy. This is because both UK and Italy are signatories to the Berne Convention.
If the work is copied in another jurisdiction, it will first depend on whether the copied work can come under one of the copyright exceptions of the international agreements (see below). Where a work is copied within a European Member State, the current regulation states the case will generally be heard on where the person lives or is domiciled. If the copying has been done outside the European Union and it leads to a court case, then, the law of that relevant jurisdiction, where the copying took place will apply.
9. What do I do if someone infringes my copyright?
Infringement of copyright occurs when someone takes either all of your work, or a substantial part of it, without permission. However, there are several exceptions which allow a copyright work to be used without permission.
If someone has infringed your copyright you could contact them directly, consider mediation, or seek legal advice. If you decide to take legal action, there are a number of remedies that you can seek from the court.
The infringer can give a promise, known as an undertaking, that they will license the work from you, under terms that you agree.
The court can grant an injunction. This means that the judge will make an order to stop the person from using your work. This could also mean having your work returned to you or seizure of any infringing copies.
The court may also award damages. This may be with an order for damages; to restore you back into the position that you would have been in if the infringement had not occurred. Or it may be an account for profits; where the profits gained by the infringer are assigned to the original copyright owner.
Action against copyright infringement can be taken by the copyright holder or someone who has full licence of the work. It is also possible to take action against infringement of moral rights. So, even if you have sold your copyright to a publisher, for example, you can still assert your moral rights, such as objecting to derogatory treatment of your work. The court may grant an injunction to stop the person doing the derogatory act against your work.
10. What can I borrow from someone else’s work? Where is the line between inspiration and copying?
Copyright protects only the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. For example, two artists may paint the same scene but portray them in ways that are slightly different, without infringing each other’s copyright. At the same time, the fact that the series Lost is copyright protected does not prevent you from writing a story about a number of people who are forced to live on a remote island after a plane crash.
Taking inspiration from someone else’s work is therefore acceptable, but in order to have copyright in your work and avoid infringement you need to create something original by using your own skill, labour, judgement and effort. Using another’s work is copyright infringement when ‘the work as a whole or any substantial part of it’ has been copied. Unfortunately, the precise meaning of these concepts is defined on a case-by-case basis. In deciding cases like this, courts will weigh the potential impact upon the originator’s ability to market their work with the concern that other people should be able to use it in order to draw inspiration for future work. You can find more information about re-using someone else’s work here.
11. Do I always need to get permission to use other people’s work? Is it enough to credit the author/artist?
If you want to use a piece of work that is still in copyright, you will need to seek permission from the copyright holder; acknowledging the author is important, but not enough. When seeking permission, remember that sometimes the copyright owner is not the original creator; it can be the record label or producer, for example.
However, there are circumstances when works can be used without seeking the copyright holder’s permission. These are known as copyright exceptions. They include fair dealing for quotation, news reporting, education, private study and parody. Each exception has very specific criteria which you must meet in order to benefit from them.
Also, you do not need to obtain permission to use works that are in the public domain.
12. What about a cover, remix, mash-up or edit?
Creating your own version of someone else’s work, including editing or remixing is referred to as a derivative work. Unless you benefit from one of the copyright exceptions mentioned above or the materials you want to edit are in the public domain, you need to seek permission from the copyright holder first in order to avoid infringement claims.
13. How do I get permission to use other people’s work?
The best way to get permission to use someone else’s work is to ask them. Contact them via email or make a phone call and find out if they are happy for you to use their work and on what terms. For certain types of use the most effective way to get permission is to obtain a licence from collective licensing organisations.
If the copyright owner is unknown, getting permission becomes particularly difficult. This type of material is referred to as an orphan work.
14. Where can I find copyright-free material?
All works that are in the public domain are out of copyright and free to re-use. You can find more information about public domain materials here. If a work is distributed under a Creative Commons licence, you can re-use it for free under the conditions set by the licence.
Copyright-free material can be difficult to find but luckily there are some archive services to help you out. Here are some suggestions:
Wikimedia Commons – Wikimedia Commons is a database of millions of freely usable media files, like images, sounds and videos.
The Prelinger Archives – The Prelinger Archives are a collection of movies that are believed to be in the public domain in the US. However, you need to bear in mind that copyright law is territorial, meaning that the fact that a work is in the public domain in the US does not necessarily mean that it is in the public domain in the UK as well. To find out how to know if a work is in the public domain in the UK, read more here.
Incompetech – Incompetech is a collection of songs produced by the American artist Kevin MacLeod and distributed under a Creative Commons licence. You can freely use all the songs originally produced by Kevin MacLeod under the only condition of crediting the author.
More resources can be found here.
15. Is it okay to use other people’s work just for personal use?
In terms of copyright infringement in the UK, there is no distinction between personal and commercial use. Using someone else’s work without permission or payment, outside of the copyright exceptions, is an infringement of that person’s copyright.
16. Is it okay to change the format of something? Can I translate something?
Changing the format of a work – known as format shifting – can be an infringement of copyright.
On 1 October 2014, a private copying exception for format shifting was introduced into UK law so that people can make copies on different media for their own use. You can find out more information about the private copying exception here.
In terms of a translation, UK law states that it is an infringement to adapt a work without permission, which includes a translation.
17. Can I take an image from Google search?
You cannot download or use images from Google without seeking permission from the copyright holder, unless your use falls within one of the exceptions. Google is simply a search engine that scans the internet and provides the searcher with any relevant results – copyright holders do not upload their images to Google for free use. If you click on the image you are usually guided to the source website where you might be able to contact the copyright holder for permission.
18. What are the copyright rules for YouTube videos?
If you are uploading or downloading videos to or from YouTube in the UK, then UK copyright laws apply. YouTube is a platform for video sharing online and it is the users who are responsible for complying with the laws of copyright.
If you upload a video that is infringing someone’s copyright, the owner of that copyright can inform YouTube, who will then send you a warning and remove the video. If the video has been incorrectly removed because you benefit from a copyright exception, you can send a ‘Counter Notification’ to request for the video to be reinstated. You can find the webform for this in the Copyright Notices section of your YouTube account. When you submit this form, YouTube will forward it to the copyright owner who made the original claim of infringement, along with your personal information.
In some instances, the copyright holder may allow the video to remain on YouTube if you agree to let them show an advert at the beginning.
The user policy for YouTube is that after three copyright infringement warnings the user’s account is suspended.
19. What should I do if I receive a copyright infringement notice?
The textual content of the website has been produced by leading copyright academics and is intended to be accurate and authoritative. However, it does not constitute legal advice. If you have received a copyright infringement notice, you might need professional legal advice.
Also, you can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau, which provides free, independent and confidential advice: http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/
20. What is the difference between copyright and other rights such as trademark or patent?
Copyright is one type of intellectual property right. The other statutory IP rights include Trade Mark, Patents and Designs, each for different purposes.
Copyright is an automatic right which protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works.
A Patent is a registered right that gives the owner exclusive right to features and processes of inventions.
A Trade Mark protects logos and signs that are used in relation to a particular type of product or service.
A Design right protects the visual appearance of an object or part of an object.
Trade Marks and Design rights can be registered or unregistered.