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copyrightCopyright is a fairly straightforward concept, but somehow it can appear much more complicated than it actually is. To help keep life simple, here is a list of the fundamental rules of copyright.


  1. Copyright is automatic


As soon as you create something, the copyright on it is yours and yours alone unless and until you choose to transfer it to someone else, e.g. a publisher. The only restrictions on this are situations where there is a pre-existing agreement that the copyright belongs to another party, for example journalists would expect to have a contract which stipulated that copyright for their articles rested with their employer.


  1. Original works are protected by copyright regardless of whether or not they display a copyright notice.


The famous © is a helpful hint. That’s all. Any work which is in copyright is in copyright regardless of whether or not it is displayed. Any work which is out of copyright stays out of copyright even if it is displayed.


  1. There is a difference between owning a work and owning copyright to it.


Copyright to a work rests with its creator unless otherwise agreed. You can buy a work and may be permitted to copy some of it under certain circumstances (e.g. for academic research) but essentially all you own is the right to enjoy the work rather than the right to copy it.


  1. Internet content has the same copyright protection as printed content


While much modern internet content is created from the ground up to be shared on social media, copyright still rests with its owner. Copyright owners may choose to licence their work for free, such as with the UK Open Government Licence but it is still under copyright.


  1. The term copyright covers more than just straightforward copying


Basically the term copyright refers to having control over the work and how it is used. So, for example, only the copyright owner could allow the work to be publicly lent (for profit or otherwise) or in any other way made available to the public, including in adapted form. The term “public” here includes private networks such as study groups.


  1. Unless otherwise agreed, the creator holds copyright to works produced as part of their employment


In practical terms this is a moot point, since employers who operate in an environment where this could be an issue will have their employees sign a contract which assigns copyright to the employer.


  1. Students hold copyright to their own work unless otherwise agreed


Students are also required to respect copyright belonging to other people. While there is a certain degree of leeway for academic research, this stops far short of allowing the unrestricted copying of work.


  1. Children can own copyright


Copyright is owned by the creator of a work regardless of how old they are. For practical purposes however, the rights associated with ownership of copyright, e.g. the right to perform a work in public, would typically be administered by a parent of guardian.


  1. It’s best to assume that any form of copying requires permission


In theory there is some leeway with copyright for the creation of documentation (and presentations) for internal use. In practice it is probably advisable to obtain permission to avoid the possibility of issues if the documentation later finds its way to an external readership.


  1. Copyright can only be assigned to one party at a time.


In other words, if you create a work and then assign the copyright to someone else, the work becomes theirs rather than yours and you must therefore seek their permission to use it.


  1. Licences to use a work are generally specific rather than generic


Usually a licence to use a work is granted for a specific purpose, e.g. the creation of a book. If you then wanted to turn your book into an audio book


  1. There is a difference between acknowledging an author and respecting copyright


Acknowledging the author of a work is a point of etiquette. Respecting copyright is a point of law.


  1. Copyright continues even after the death of an author

Generally it stays in place for 70 years after the author’s death.


  1. It’s better to beg forgiveness then ask permission


Copyright is one area of life where this old saying can get you into a lot of trouble. When it comes to copyright, disclaimers are generally a waste of paper. Basically if a work is under copyright, assume you need permission to use it.

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