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How to use copyright to protect your business

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The work that you create is the backbone of your business, and copyright is there to protect that. But, for it to work effectively for your company, you need to understand the basics, from licensing agreements to copyright infringement. You can get a good grounding in all the fundamentals here.

If you have questions or concerns about copyright and your business, contact our legal experts. They can match you to intellectual property solicitors who can look at your specific situation and offer professional advice to help ensure your work is protected.

What is copyright?

Copyright allows for the legal protection of original work, including literary, musical, artistic or dramatic material. It automatically gives the creator or owner control over who has the rights to use their work, so people can’t copy, reproduce or distribute the work without permission.

For a more detailed explanation, we have more detail and explanations of what to do if you have to take legal action around copyright on a separate page.

Who owns the copyright to work made for a company?

For work created for a business, either by an employee or a third-party organisation (such as an agency or freelancer), copyright ownership can vary.

Typically, if an employee has created work for a company, it belongs to the employer. If it was created by an agency or freelancer, the agency or freelancer owns the copyright. But, both parties can sign a contract that changes who has copyright.

For example, if your business gets a designer to create a logo, the designer will automatically have copyright unless you agree otherwise and make it official in a signed contract. It’s important to outline these details before the work begins – read our guidance on how to outsource business services for more information.

What is a licensing agreement?

You might have a licensing agreement set up, which is a deal between the owner of the copyrighted work and the person or business who wants to use it. In a licensing agreement, the owner agrees to give up some (or all) of their rights to someone else, usually for payment.

The agreement should cover how a piece of copyrighted work can be used, stating details like how long they can use it for and the way it can be republished.

Sometimes, if there’s a dispute and there’s no licensing agreement, you may be able to argue there was an ‘implied license’. This means that, even if there was no official record, it was clear to both parties the work would be used in a certain way. But, to avoid this, it’s always best to outline details around copyright and licensing in advance.

Copyright can also be sold, meaning the creator or owner completely gives their rights over to someone else.

Whether you’re working on a licencing agreement, or selling or purchasing copyright, it’s important to ensure all contracts are written correctly and cover all the necessary details. An intellectual property lawyer can help to ensure you and your work are protected – get in touch to speak to our legal experts to learn more.

Do I need to apply for copyright?

You don’t need to apply for copyright, as you get automatic protection for any original work you or your business creates. But, if a dispute happens, it can be difficult to prove you own the copyright, especially if there is no evidence of the date it was made.

Trade marking your company name and logo can help to protect your work and ensure others can’t copy or reproduce it. Read our guide about how to trade mark a company name and logo to learn more.

It’s also important to keep track of your employees’ work, as well as anything sourced by a third party, to ensure you have a detailed record of when something was made and who created it.

What if someone uses my work without permission?

If you learn someone has been infringing upon your copyright, it’s up to you to defend your work. There are a few different things you can do:

  • Get in touch with them and try to negotiate a solution, such as a licensing agreement.
  • Use a mediation service.
  • Take them to court.

Defending your copyright can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Before you take any action, it’s best to speak to an intellectual property solicitor. Our experienced professionals will listen to your circumstances and can guide you on the best way to proceed – contact us to learn more.

Note: First4lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4lawyers’ online information alone.