Protecting your work is a key consideration for many freelancers. The Intellectual Property Office explains some of the considerations you may have to make when it comes to copyright
As an independent professional you will be working with many different clients, creating and innovating to provide the best solutions for their needs. This could be writing software, designing logos, drafting training packages or taking photos. Why have they chosen you? Because you have the skills, expertise and creativity to deliver what they are looking for.
So where does Intellectual Property (IP) fit in? As an independent creator, it is important to know who will own the IP in the finished product that you create. Copyright protects most artistic and creative works, and the good news is, copyright is free. There are no forms to complete and no fees to pay. Copyright subsists in work as soon as it is made.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that if you pay for the work you will own the copyright in it. But, this is not the case. The first owner of copyright will be the creator, or their employer if the work is created as part of their ordinary course of employment. No matter how much money changes hands, the copyright will not transfer unless there is a written agreement.
So that puts you in a strong position. As the creator of the work, you will be the first owner of the copyright, although there will be an implied licence for your client to use it for the purpose for which it was created. Can you transfer the copyright? Yes, copyright can be transferred, sold or licensed at any time. If you decide to sell or transfer your copyright, there would need to be a written, signed contract stating a transfer has taken place. This is known as an assignment.
You should note that with certain copyright material even if you sell the copyright in work you may still have certain moral rights. For instance, you may have the right to be identified as the author (provided you have asserted that right previously) and the right to object to any derogatory treatment of your work. Moral rights in work cannot be transferred or ‘assigned’, but you are entitled to waive those rights.
If you are an IPSE member, your first port of call should be the IPSE legal helpline for authoritative advice on any aspect of intellectual property
With no official registration system, how do you prove ownership of work? One method is to send yourself a copy of the work by registered post (don’t open the envelope when it arrives) and some owners register their copyright through commercial online services or log their work with a banks or Solicitors.
It is recommended that creators mark their work with the copyright symbol © followed by their name (or names) and the year in which the work was created: © Owners name 2017. This is not essential but it shows the work is protected by copyright, when the copyright began and who I should contact if I want to use it.
How can copyright benefit you? The copyright owner has the exclusive right to copy the work, issue copies of the work to the public, rent or lend the work to the public, perform, show or play the work in public, communicate the work to the public, edit or adapt the work, sell or license the copyright for use by others.
It is important to remember that copyright protects only the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. This means for example that if you take a picture of a popular landmark, it does not prevent someone taking a picture from the same location. It also means that even if you are writing a thriller novel about a character being murdered and a detective solving the case (usually it’s the butler that did it), as long as you make sure that your work is substantially different to all the others it will be an original work.
As an independent professional it is crucial that you understand copyright, keep precise records and make sure you have IP strategy. Yes, it’s a lot to take in, but if you need help, you don’t need to look far. If you are an IPSE member, your first port of call should be the IPSE legal helpline for authoritative advice on any aspect of intellectual property.
This advice was provided by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The IPO have a range of online tools and a dedicated help line for IP enquiries. 0300 300 2000 www.gov.uk/ipo