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Creating digital works that do not involve copyright: guidance notes

The only way that you can create digital work without dealing with copyright is to either create it all yourself (so you then own the IP rights and potentially the copyright); work with out of copyright work; or work with Creative Commons licensed creations.

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.

Out of copyright work

Copyright does not last forever, and once a work is out of copyright you can use it in any way you like without the need to seek permission from the copyright owner, or rely on exceptions or licences. However, you should be cautious about relying on the out-of-copyright status of a work. For example, even if an original work is out of copyright, there may be new copyrights in a translation, adaption or arrangement of the work.

Here are some examples of material that is now out of copyright and no longer protected by copyright:

  • Books, plays, literary works, journal articles, artistic works and musical works written by an author who died 70 or more years ago (note: If a work was not published, broadcast, performed, or recorded for sale to the public until after the creator’s death, copyright will last for 70 years from the end of the calendar year that this occurs).
  • For films, copyright expires 70 years after the end of the calendar year in which the death occurs of the last to survive of the principal director, the authors of the screenplay and dialogue, and the composer of any music specially created for the film
  • For sound recordings, copyright expires 70 years after the end of the year in which it was made or, if published in this time, 70 years from the end of the year of publication. If the work is not published during that 70 year period, but it is played in public or communicated to the public during that period, the period of copyright protection is 70 years from the first of these to happen.
  • Published editions (or typographical arrangements) that are 25 years or older
  • Radio or Television broadcasts that are 50 years old or more
Creating the work yourself
In this instance, to avoid dealing with existing copyright, your option is to create from scratch all the work yourself. As a creative business or person, you have then invented a brand new work. How do you protect, exploit and manage your intellectual property effectively? Own-it have written this guide to explain. If it is a moving image work, this factsheet has specific guidance.
If your original work in which you have IP is on the web, there are ways to protect it. Digital Rights Management (DRM), watermarking and tracking are among the topics covered in this Own-it podcast on protecting your work on the web.
Creating work under a Creative Commons license
Creative Commons (CC, or http://creativecommons.org/)is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright, and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.
The licenses allow you to exercise your copyright in a way that suits you – grant copyright permissions for your creative work. CC is really useful if you need to showcase your work, collaborate and distribute work online. Own-it have produced this excellent factsheet for more information on Creative Commons.
You can also find out more about how to protect your work at the copyrighthub.co.uk.