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What IP Do You Own? (2)

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In the course of your business, you will have produced written material (eg your stationery, brochures, product support material etc). That may include diagrams, illustrations, photographs. You may have ventured into audio or video recordings of promotional material or product support. In many cases, the design and production of these materials may have been contracted out to designers, illustrators, photographers, production companies etc. Once they have produced the material you commissioned you probably expect to be able to use it for other purposes. A design for a letterhead may be used in a banner, or on a website, or in an advertisement. Or it may be slightly modified for a future run of stationery. You may well have assumed that having paid for the material you are free to use it. Think again!

The ‘author’ owns the copyright. Yes, the designer, the photographer, the production company. The copyright material may be used only in the manner permitted by the author. The right is for the material not to be copied. (The clue is in the name.) It does not give any remedy if something similar has totally independent origin.

So, if you want to put the material to additional uses, you will probably have to pay additional licence fees. Copyright in creative works arises automatically without registration. It protects a wide range of works. And the copyright can last for a long time! Literary, artistic, musical and dramatic works are protected during the author’s lifetime and for a further 70 years after his/her death. In the case of films the protection continues until 70 years after the death of the last of the key creative influences eg: director, writer of screenplay, composer of the score. This protection would cover technical drawings, operating manuals, designs for packaging, video instructions and a great deal of other material produced for business use. Sound recordings and broadcasts are protected for 50 years from the recording or broadcast.

The lesson to be drawn from this is that it is important when commissioning work of this kind to ensure that the author gives you the licences you need to use the material as widely as possible. Ideally, you would stipulate in the contract that the copyright will be assigned to you. It will probably pay to get some legal advice at the commissioning stage.

See also our notes on … Intellectual Property and our Self audit of IP … and watch out for the next post in this series.