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Copyright Lightbulb Series

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

In August 2023, I provided a whole series of Q&As on LinkedIn relating to copyright. You can find the entire series here in this blog - a mini guide to some of the most commonly asked questions about copyright and using/protecting content.



Q. How can I prove that I own the copyright for my work? 🤔 A. Registering everything you create would be totally unmanageable. 😱

That’s why it’s not required. 🙏 In the UK, ownership of copyright automatically belongs to the creator. 🎨

Should someone else allege ownership of your work, you need only to show your work existed/was published, before their claim. 📅 How can you prove this? For really important pieces of content, you should simply send yourself a copy of the work and keep the email - that will give it a 'date stamp', so you can easily prove when you created the work.


Q. Does my employer own all the copyright in the content I create at work? 🤔 A. Work created in the course of employment will typically belong to the employer, as stated in the employment contract. If nothing is stated in the employment contract then the employer is still the owner - this is automatically implied.

However, freelancers and contractors (who are not employees) may include clauses in their terms and conditions to retain copyright ownership, opting instead to simply grant clients permission to use the content (in the form of a 'license'), for certain restricted purposes, in exchange for a fee. 🤝 💷 Be careful to retain ownership of any content that you need to keep for yourself and remember anything created as part of your role as an employee won't be able to be used elsewhere unless you have permission from your employer. 💡Q. Can I use a YouTube video in my content? 🎥

A. Nope, not unless you have written permission from the content creator. ❌

You must contact the creator to request a license to use the work and expect to pay a fee. 📝 Any exceptions? 👌Yes, if you are using it for non-commercial research/study or for criticism/review purposes it's fine. Also, if you are only using a small part which is not 'substantial', then go for it - more on what 'substantial' means next week in another Lightbulb post. ✅Note that you can share the work though by linking to it or using Youtube’s ‘embed’ feature. 🔗 💀Still, you should be wary of using the work for commercial purposes without a formal agreement.


💡Q. What is a copyright legend and when do I use it? © A. copyright legend is a line of text and a symbol that can be added to any created piece of work to signify ownership. However, since copyright is automatically granted in the UK when you create a piece of work (including literary, music, artwork, software, and other creative works), a copyright legend is not required. However, that’s not to say a copyright legend isn’t useful. A copyright legend can be a reminder to others of your intellectual property rights and can be an effective deterrent against copyright infringement. To use a copyright legend you should use the symbol © followed by your name (or business name), year of publication and then the words ‘All Rights Reserved’. Like this: ©Aubergine Legal Limited 2023 All Rights Reserved. 📃 Pop it at the foot of your website page, at the end of important documents, on blogs, presentation slides, handouts, client reports, etc.🖥️ Q. How long does copyright last? 🔏

A. Copyright is automatically assigned (which means you own it) to the creator of a piece of work and lasts their lifetime, so long as they do not sign it away. In the UK, copyright ownership will last up to 70 years after the author's death (note that copyright in broadcasts is less - just 50 years from when first broadcast - so this would include Podcasts). 💼

In cases where the creator of a piece of work is unknown, it is copyright protected for up to 70 years from the date of creation, or from publication if the former date is unknown. 📅 The 70 years of copyright protection ensures the rights of the author to control the use of their creative works but also allows for a time when the general public may have fuller access to build upon the work. For instance, since the novel Frankenstein has been in the public domain for some time now, others have been able to create many related works inspired by the original, including books, plays, films and ballets. 📽 🎭 📓🎨 Q. What does ‘substantial’ mean in terms of copyright? 🤷‍♀️

A. You can use a part of someone else's copyrighted material without permission, so long as 💡 what is used is not ‘substantial’.

Using a significant or important part of someone else's material would be considered substantial and therefore infringes on their copyright. This is based on quality not quantity, so even if you are just using a tiny amount be careful - as if it's one of the most important parts of the whole work then it could still be regarded as 'substantial' ⛔. However, 'fair use' allows for limited inclusion of copyrighted content without the need to seek permission. This is usually specific to using the work for news reporting, teaching, research, criticism, comment, etc. 💬 For example, if you use a short clip from a film within an original video you upload to YouTube, it can be deemed fair use if you are commenting on the material. However, printing a well-known line from a film onto a T-Shirt 👕 for commercial purposes would be considered ‘substantial’ use and therefore infringe copyright. 🎬 Always give credit to the original creator and seek permission if using substantial copyrighted material, especially for commercial purposes. 💷

Q. Who owns the copyright to a photograph? 📷

A. As the creators, photographers generally own the copyright to their photographs. © Unless they're employed, in which case the employment contract would typically state that any work created within the scope of their role would belong to the employer.

Freelance Photographers may license the copyright on their work. The work can then be used by a business or specific individual, usually in return for a fee, but the creator retains ownership. 🤝 If you are paying a photographer to take photos for you and you NEED to own the photograph - then make sure you get an assignment of the IP in the photo (and expect to pay more for it!). Q. What should I do if someone copies my work? 🤔

A. If someone has copied your work then this is an infringement on your copyright. 🚫🖼️

Of course, the action you take depends on the level of damage this has done to you/your business. You may decide to contact the copycat instructing them to cease using your work ✋🏻 (using a cease and desist letter). Or you may wish to offer them a license to use your copyrighted materials for a fee. However, if their use of your materials has even potentially affected your business reputation or sales, you may be entitled to compensation. 💼 💷 If this is the case, or should the copycat continue to use your work even after you’ve requested they stop, then it may be time to contact a lawyer. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) may also be able to assist you in taking action. 👩‍⚖️ 🏛️ Q. What on earth are moral rights?! 💁‍♀️

A. Copyright is split into two parts - exploitation rights and moral rights. Exploitation rights can be transferred if a creator chooses to sell or otherwise sign away their copyright. However, moral rights are always retained. 🔏 Moral rights mean the original creator has the right to be named as the artist whenever the work is publicly shown. It also means they can oppose changes to the work that can be perceived as harmful to the artist’s reputation. Moral rights are personal and represent the relationship between the creator and the work. 👨‍🎨

If you are paying someone to create works for you, and you don’t want them having these moral rights, then make sure you put a clause in your contract with them stating that the moral rights are waived. Especially important for content creators, ghost writers and marketing agencies. Q. What is the difference between an assignment of copyright and a licence? ©

A. You can be granted rights to someone else’s copyrighted material with an assignment of copyright or being given a licence.

An assignment of copyright transfers full ownership to the assignee - so you get to own everything outright, and the original owner can no longer use it. A licence simply grants ‘permission to use’ with restrictions on how you can use the content. This means the copyright owner gets to retain ownership and makes some money out of granting people the right to use it. 🔏 Q. How can I use images on my website without breaching copyright? 🖼

A. You own the copyright on any photographs you have taken yourself. If hiring a professional photographer, for instance to take photographs of your products for use on your website, you should be licensed the use of the pictures within the contract agreement (check you have the right to use for business purposes). 👍 Other photographs, illustrations and pictures may be owned by other people and using them would breach copyright. It is not advisable to search Google images and use images you find as they are likely to be under copyright and you could be fined (random spot checks are done by content owners - so be careful!). Using a stock photo service, such as Canva, iStock, etc, is far more reliable since the images there are licensed for your use as per the service agreement. 📜 To use any other images that are neither licensed to you nor owned by you, you will need to get written permission from the copyright holder. 🖋

Q. What do I need to do if I want to use other people’s copyright in my work?

A. If you wish to use copyrighted material then you need the permission of the creator. To do this, you must take the following steps:

  • Identify the owner of the work 🔍

  • Contact them to request permission (explaining your intentions) 📧

  • Negotiate and formalise an agreement in writing 📄

  • Follow the agreement 👉

It is also best practice to give the originator credit when publishing their work, even when a licence has been granted to you. Of course, when identifying the owner you may find the work is already in the public domain and available to use without permission. Are you a small business or freelancer needing to know more about common legal queries? Follow me and benefit from my Lightbulb Series on LinkedIn - regular snippets of legal advice (just like above). 💡Still confused about copyright? Contact me with any queries you have.



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