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Working with copyright and intellectual property (IP)


Any artist, creative, cultural or heritage organisation or practice that produces live or recorded digital content needs to know about copyright. Whether you are creating new digital work and new copyrights, or using pre-existing works with existing copyright in a digital work, permission must be given or sought to use the constituent elements. These articles and guidance notes on dealing with clearing copyright and licensing intellectual property (IP) are provided to give you practical and pragmatic tips and guidance on how to secure the rights that you need to publish work online; and how to protect any IP that you might create. (This information is provided in the spirit of guidance and is not legal advice – if you would like legal advice, please contact AmbITion Scotland partner for help, the Intellectual Assets Centre).

REMEMBER: you are permitted by law to use copyrighted material (without having to seek permissions) for: research and private study, criticism, review and news reporting, incidental inclusion, and educational purposes.

Getting Started

What is copyright? It is a right that exists for the author on creation of:

  • Literary works, such as books and poems. This also includes computer programmes or anything expressed in writing;
  • Dramatic works, the most typical of these being plays, but it can include dance and mime choreography and scripts for films;
  • Musical works, this applies to any musical composition, excluding any words or actions that may accompany it;
  • Artistic works, original works of art with aesthetic elements will gain protection;
  • Broadcasts, sound recordings (that is the actual CDs, LPs, minidisks, tapes) films, cable programmes, typographical arrangements (that is the type setting on a book, the way it looks on the page);
  • Photographs;
  • Sculptures, collages, architectural works; and
  • Databases and computer-generated works.

Copyright, which protects many types of creative work, is at the heart of legal protection for all these things. In copyright law and contracts, the author refers to the person who creates the work: in the case of a sound recording, the producer; in the case of a film or theatre show, the producer and principal director; in the case of a broadcast, the producer; in the case of a literary work, the publisher (note: not necessarily the writer of the work, who may be known in popular terms as “an author”) . The author has other moral rights: to be identified as the author; to object to derogatory treatment of the work; and the right to privacy in certain photographs and films. The owner of copyright has exclusive rights to:
•    Copy the work (including digitally by technological means)
•    Issue copies to the public
•    Rent or lend the work
•    Perform, show or play the work in public
•    Communicate the work to the public (by broadcast or digital transmission)
•    Make adaptations of the work

This guide sets out the basics of the copyright system so that you can take the proper steps and precautions in protecting your work – a factsheet by AmbITion England partner Own it which gives a great overview of copyright, and copyrighthub.co.uk also provides this clear introduction.

What is intellectual property (IP)?

IP is a globally recognised term that is widely understood as being the unique properties of someone’s creation or idea. Own-it provide this succinct summary of what IP rights are.

AmbITion Scotland hosted a webcast covering the basics of IP and copyright:

Design right or copyright?

You may be unsure whether work is protected by copyright or design rights? This is a question that is not always easy to answer as there is a significant overlap between the two. This FAQ from Own-it attempts to explain instances where one right will trump the other using specific examples that may be relevant to you.

What are orphan works?

In order to assess whether a work is still in copyright you need to know whether the author of that work is still alive. This is because copyright usually subsists for the duration of the author’s life plus 70 years, in the case of a sound recording or broadcast, the copyright exists for 70 years after the first broadcast. You can find out when something was first released or broadcast, and you can usually find out when someone died if you know who they were, but if you don’t know who created a work then you have a problem. If a copyright owner is unknown or untraceable then it is impossible to gain consent to use the work. Works which are in copyright and whose rights holders are unknown or works where the rights holder is known, but cannot be traced or contacted are known as orphan works – Own-it have provided this factsheet on best practice around orphan works, although new EU law is making it easier to work with Orphan Works (November 2012).

How to copyright your work

If you have created something, then you can protect it so that no one else has the right to copy that work. Own-it offers some advice on how. If someone has infringed your copyright, Own-it advises with some practical help on what to do and copyrighthub.co.uk also has advice on how to protect your work.

Glossary of copyright & IP terms

Don’t know your copyright from your copyleft? Arts Council England compiled this glossary.


Next steps: How to clear existing copyrights

Next steps: Commissioning work and dealing with rights

Next steps: Creating work without anyone else’s copyrights

Consider the current context of copyright