10 things you should know about ... copyright

This short article explains the key points of copyright law - those which should be familiar to every website operator. Website operators need to know about copyright law because copyright materials are their stock-in-trade, and because dealing in copyright materials gives rise to legal risks.

Complaints of copyright infringement involving websites are relatively common; and infringement lawsuits can be ruinous. It therefore pays to be careful. Whatever one may think of the law of copyright, ignorance isn't going to impress a judge.

The article is written from the point of view of English law. However, there is a measure of international harmonization of copyright law, and most of the points made can be validly made in relation to the copyright law of most other jurisdictions.

(1) Copyright v other IP rights

Copyright must be properly distinguished from other kinds of intellectual property (IP) right: patents, trade marks, rights in designs, database rights, and so on. Nothing, but nothing, pains the IP expert more than many journalists' apparent belief that the different kinds of IP right are interchangeable.

(2) Copyright protects "works"

Copyright law protects a diversity of "copyright works". It protects the oil painting, operatic symphony and poetic epic with the same principles and rules as the doodle, the advertising ditty, and the slap-dash legal article.

Although "websites" are not a kind of copyright work, their constituent elements are likely to be protected by copyright. Website text and code may be protected as literary works; photographs and other website artworks may be protected as artistic works; website music tracks may be protected both as musical works and through sound recording copyright. A single video clip can accommodate a profusion of different rights.

Simply cataloguing the different copyrights subsisting in a website can be a major undertaking.

(3) The de minimis principle

Copyright isn't concerned with very little things. It does not protect so-called de minimis works, the classic examples of which are titles (such as The Da Vinci Code) and newspaper headlines (such as Small earthquake in Chile, not many killed); nor does copyright prevent "insubstantial copying" from a work which is protected by copyright.

Unfortunately it is often difficult to decide whether a work is really de minimis, or an example of copying insubstantial. Hence the practice, prevalent in some of our cultural industries, of demanding express permission for the least act of copying.

(This is not to say that it's always OK to borrow others' titles etc. Titles may, for example, be protected under the law of trade marks or passing off.)

(4) Ideas and expressions

It is sometimes said that there is no copyright in an idea. This is not entirely accurate, and is more than a little misleading. Although there is no copyright in an idea as such - i.e. an idea which has not been fixed in the form of a copyright work - that is not to say that copyright does not protect the ideas which inhere in copyright works: it does, providing the ideas are of the right kind and are not too general. For example, copyright in a story could be infringed by a person copying the plot of that story, notwithstanding that the copyist takes care to avoid lifting a single phrase from the original story. Note that the ideas underlying a web design,
no matter how specific, are probably of the wrong sort to attract the protection of the law of copyright.

(5) To credit or not to credit?

Do you have a right to be identified as the author on copies of your work? Not necessarily.

This right, the right of paternity, is one of the principal moral rights which arise in relation to copyright works. Moral rights are conceptually distinct from copyright itself. In English law (unusually) the paternity right only applies where it has been asserted by the author. So, if you licence others to use your artwork, but don't assert the right of paternity, they may use it without crediting you!

Some of the statutory defences to a claim of copyright infringement, including the defences of "fair dealing for the purposes of research and private study" and "fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review", usually only apply where an author has been credited in an appropriate way.

(6) Copyright registration services

Try Googling "copyright registration". You'll find a plethora of different UK companies offering to help protect your works. All you have to do is submit your magnum opus and pay their fees; all they have to do is not lose your submission. Nice work.

The alleged purpose of these services is to provide evidence in the event of a court case. However, the only conceivable evidence such a company could offer is that a work was created before the time of submission. Time of creation is only occasionally an issue in copyright infringement lawsuits. We aren't aware of a single copyright case which has even involved the evidence of such a company, let alone turned upon such evidence. So, don't waste your money.

Note that the position regarding US copyright law is different. Registration with the US Copyright Office, although not necessary, has a number of advantages. See www.copyright.gov for details.

(7) The importance of ©

The Copyright symbol matters little nowadays: in most jurisdictions copyright subsists in qualifying works, irrespective of what symbols they wear. The use of the symbol can be a pre-condition to copyright protection under the Universal Copyright Convention in countries which are not signed up to the Berne Convention - but all the major jurisdictions are now signed up to the Berne Convention.

The use of the symbol does however have the effect of reminding people about copyright protection. If accompanied by the name of the copyright owner, it lets users know who owns the copyright - and from whom a licence should be taken. It also looks rather neat and professional.

(8) When must a licence be written?

In English law, permissions to use copyright works (also known as licences) do NOT need to be in writing. For instance, when you make a website available to the world, you grant an implied licence to internet users to copy that website for the purpose of viewing it on a web browser. However, the exact scope of implied and unwritten licences may be unclear.

There is one exception to the above rule: statutory "exclusive" licences must be in writing signed by or on behalf of the copyright owner, as must assignments (transfers) of copyright ownership.

(9) Acts of infringement

Copyright infringement isn't just about copying. There are lots of different ways to infringe someone's copyright, and many of them don't directly involve copying. For instance, selling over your website CDs that someone else ripped may be copyright infringement. Again, making an adaptation of a copyright work, for instance recreating a motion picture as a cartoon strip, can infringe copyright, even if there is no literal copying.

(10) Copyright crimes

Contrary to the impression given by certain content industry propaganda, copyright infringement isn't usually a criminal offence. Broadly speaking, in the UK, copyright infringement is only a crime if it is done deliberately in the course of a business or on a significant scale. So, downloading an infringing track for personal use may be copyright infringement, but it isn't usually a crime.

This is a revised version of an article was originally published on www.website-law.co.uk in November 2006.


Hi, we're thinking of going into business selling sports goods, memorabelia. If we, for example, produce an image of Arsenals club logo that isn't quite the same as their official one and state that "these goods are unofficial are are not connected with Aresnal FC" would we still be breaking copyright laws?



It's interesting that you should choose Arsenal as an example.  They were involved in a very famous case involving passing off and trade mark infringement (rather than copyright infringement) which went to the European Court of Justice.  There's a good summary of the litigation here:


As you can seen, a disclaimer might get you around a passing off claim, but it wouldn't rescue you from a trade mark infringement claim.  There could also be copyright infringement issues.

We make videos in house to sell the products for the company we're employed by: does our company own these videos? Are they already copyrighted then by us? An ex employee has set up his own video company and copied some of our videos to use on his website. He helped to make them but can we ask him to take them down?

Various different copyrights usually subsist in a video, and the answers to your questions depend to some extent upon information you have not provided. In particular:

  • what is the nature of the videos?
  • what different copyright works do they incorporate?
  • what is the source of each of those works?
  • who shoots the videos, and who is the "producer" and who is the "principal director" of the videos?
  • are these people employees (as opposed to sub-contractors) of your company?
  • what do your contracts with employees (and sub-contractors) say about IP ownership and licensing?
  • what does the contract between your company and its clients say about IP ownership and licensing?

On the face of it its seems likely that the ex-employee is infringing copyright - possibly your copyright - but I could not be sure without a lot more information.

The videos are product reviews. We have scriptwriters who script them for our presenters and the information is based on the products themselves. We have cameramen who are also effectively directors and I guess this guy was the producer. All involved are employees of our company as was the ex-employee at the time of making the videos who has now cited said videos as his own. When I looked into it on the surface it seemed like he was probably infringing copyright but then I came across you to ask! I don't think we have anything as a company about copyright and IP ownership anyway. What is IP ownership?! How do we go about copyrighting future work? Thankyou so much!

The basic rule is that the first owner of copyright in works created by an employee in the course of his or her employment is the employer, unless there is an agreement to the contrary (CDPA s11(2)).

So, unless you have transferred all your copyright in the film to the ex-employee or someone else, it seems likely that the use by the ex-employee of the film without permission is actionable. I suggest that you write to him formally (if you have not done so already), stating that his actions infringe your copyright, and asking for him to desist.  If that doesn't work, then the next step would be to ask a solicitor to write on your behalf.

NB copyright subsist automatically in appropriate types of work - you don't have to jump through any procedural hoops to get copyright protection. You do, however, have to be very careful about what you contracts with employees, contractors and customers say about copyright.

Thanks for all your help.

I am developing a website which aims to draw together and publish written material on a particular theme, most of which will have been previously published.  There will also be video and photographic material.  I do not want to infringe copyright.  I have seen the following phrase on another website which publishes material: "Copyrights are retained by the author." (http://www.ifpe.org/index.html - see Reviews section on the right).  I want to adapt this sentence to: "Copyrights of all materials published on this site are retained by the authors, creators and/or publishers and it is not our intention to infringe them.  We ask that users of this site equally respect those rights by crediting authors, creators and/or publishers when using materials sourced from this site in any subsequent writing or posts on other websites."  In addition, instructions for people posting materials will be on the home page to make sure that everything posted is duly credited.  Is all this enough to avoid breaking relevant laws and demonstrate that it is our intention to operate lawfully?  I will be grateful for any advice you can provide.

A basic rule of copyright is that you need the copyright owner's permission to re-publish their material - generally, a credit will not act as a substitute for permission.

To provide more specific help, I would need more information about the site. What types of material will you be republishing - and in what way (e.g. entire photos, excerpts from poems)? What is the context of the publication? How will the previously published material get on to your site?  Will you be responsible for selecting and publishing any of the material, or will that be exclusively the responsibility of your users? What if anything will you do to get permission?

I am working on a similar website, where I would like to pull together information from various websites.  If I were to write my own articles that included proper citations from others' works, would there be a copyright issue?

Hi Julie

As a general rule (there's always some exceptions where copyright is concerned!) there's no copyright in information. So, writing an original article that is based on information from others' works will not usually infringe copyright. In academic circles at least, doing this without crediting sources is considered to be plagiarism, but plagiarism is not a legal category.

If you are quoting more than minimal passages from others' works, then there is a chance of copyright infringement, unless one of the standard copyright defences applies. The most relevant of these would likely be "fair dealing of the purposes of criticism or review". This defence applies where you are quoting for the purpose of criticising or reviewing a copyright work (not necessarily the one you are quoting). One of the conditions of this defence is that you give proper attribution to the author.

Because of the narrowness of this and the other UK copyright defences, and the uncertainty surrounding their application, it is usual in print publishing to get permission for many types of quotation. However, on the web things tend to be a little more relaxed. 

Thank you, your response if very helpful!

I hope to use information from various books on religion that I have read in the past.  No charge is made to the reader who is free to download my files in pdf format.  How do I avoid infringement of copyright?

I am currently creating cartoons with the help of an application. These are cartoon images of myself and my friends in various humorous situations and dialogues.

I consider these cartoons to be my intellectual property despite the fact that the impersonations are created by using an application owned by a third party.

Do I have the right and should I copyright my creations?

Thanks for your comment Elena.

The use of a software tool to create cartoons will not usually deprive you of the copyright, although in theory the licensing terms of the application could affect this. What application are you using?

You do not need to register copyrights, or jump through any other hoops. Copyright automatically protects appropriate types of work (such as original cartoons). Copyright registration services are offered by some private companies, but they are of questionable value.

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I am currently using the Bitstrips app.

A set of Britstrips T&Cs is available here:


What follows assumes that these T&Cs apply.

The key terms regarding copyright are set out in Section 4:

4.1 By using the Service you will have access to comics and other materials, graphics and text (collectively, "Content"). Content may be provided under license by Bitstrips or by independent content providers, including other users of the Service (all such independent content providers, "Content Providers").

4.2 You acknowledge that Bitstrips and other Content Providers have intellectual property rights in their respective Content. Except as described in the Terms, such rights are not licensed or otherwise transferred by mere use of the Service. You accept full responsibility and liability for your use of any Content in violation of any such rights.

4.3 You may create Content using the Service. Subject to the Terms, you retain ownership of and all right to the Content that you create, including all copyright and other intellectual property rights.

So far, so good: they retain ownership of everything they have created; you retain ownership of everything you have created.


4.5 You grant Bitstrips the following worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, irrevocable and non-exclusive licenses to your Content: a) upon creating or uploading the Content on the Service, a license to use, modify, and reproduce the Content within the Service, and b) upon posting the Content on the Service, a license to use and reproduce the Content for commercial, marketing and/or promotional purposes, subject to an obligation upon Bitstrips to use commercially reasonable efforts to discontinue such use of your Content if you so advise Bitstrips in writing.

So, although you retain ownership, they have a prima facie licence to exploit your posted content.

4.6 to 4.8 cover Bitstrips tools and "remixable" content - worth reading too.

4.9 Contains a limitation affecting commerial use of the service:

4.9 You may not use the Service or the Content for a commercial purpose without the consent of Bitstrips. If you would like to use Content for a commercial purpose, please contact Bitstrips directly at [email protected] You agree that your creation of Content is not in any way based upon any expectation of compensation from Bitstrips.

As you might expect, you're not allowed to reuse their content in a commercial context without consent (and presumably the payment of a licence fee). Nor apparently are you allowed to use the service itself for a commercial purpose. I'm not sure what the position would be as to the exploitation of content that has been created for a non-commercial purpose, but is later commercialised. This might be covered elsewhere in the T&Cs - I have only read section 4.

Is it okay to use said pictures from bitstrips for a personal blog with adsense?

I think that the presence of AdSense means that this use is "commercial".

In a response to Julie (28/01/13) you said "As a general rule (there's always some exceptions where copyright is concerned!) there's no copyright in information."

If you wanted to create a "free to access" Google-type map of all bird-watching locations and this required collating locations from a wide range of web forums (contributed by users) and other web sources would this be okay? These existing sites generally do have their own terms of use.

This sort of information collation exercise will usually be lawful, but there are a few traps to watch out for:

  1. Database right - The extraction or reutilisation of a substantial part of a protected database will infringe the sui generis database right.
  2. T&Cs - As you point out, the sites will have their own T&Cs, and if you have a contract with the website operator under T&Cs prohibiting the proposed use of data, then that could be a problem. Just visiting a website won't usually bring a contract into being, but if you give any formal acceptance to the T&Cs (e.g. when registering with a forum or discussion board) that could create contractual rights.
  3. Confidentiality - If any information was shared on a private forum, there is a theoretical possibility that it could be protected by the law of confidence.  Probably not one to worry about though!

Alasdair many thanks for the response. A follow up point:

T&Cs. You say "Just visiting a website won't usually bring a contract into being". Looking at an example web site that includes such a forum we might utilise, the Ts and Cs say:

By using the (name removed) web site You agree to be bound by the terms and conditions set out below. If you do not wish to be bound by these terms and conditions, You may not use the (name removed) web site.

Does this therefore carry no weight?

Tony - it all depends upon the specifics, but even where T&Cs don't create a contract between user and operator, they are still important: the licence to use the website set out in the T&Cs is still effective; disclaimers of liability in the T&Cs may still apply; and there will still be a requirement to make certain statutory disclosures (normally contained in the T&Cs).

For the purposes of our discussion, the copyright licence is the interesting bit. Copyright licences may be contractual or non-contractual.  A non-contractual licence can carve out from the "realm" of infringement certain permitted acts, but it cannot then create collateral obligations in the same way as a contractual licence. An obligation not to republish information about bird watching sites would, in my view, be a collateral obligation.


If I had an idea for a website, put together from a few general (uncopyrightable) ideas, but the whole makes something new and exciting, what is the best way of protecting my idea, given that I would need help bringing it to life (at least 2 other people?)


Mr. S. Mysterious.

Until the point of publication of the website, you could protect the idea as confidential information - only disclose it to those who have signed a confidentiality agreement. In a confidentiality agreement of this kind, it is common to include express restrictions upon the uses to which the information may be put, as well as obligations to keep the information secret.

If you are using an outside web development agency, you could ask for the insertion of a clause into their contract preventing them from working on competing websites for a period. In some circumstances you might be able to ask for an assignment of the copyright in the website code. Whilst this won't stop others copying your idea, it does help deal with the risk that your own developers could give the competition a boost.

Once the website is published, there will be little you can do to stop others copying the general idea. Common strategies in these circumstances are:

  • to invest heavily in the brand (and brand protection) so that your brand becomes synonymous with the web application type in question; and
  • to rely on network effects to make it difficult for others to complete.

Whether these strategies are feasible will depend upon the specifics of your website and market.

The position may be different in other legal systems - for instance in the US software patents and business method patents can protect elements of a web application.

Hi Alasdair,

Thankyou for replying so quickly and thoroughly!

So I need the investment first before I launch it so we can be first to market (like FB or ebay..)

Hear you on the disclosure form, just typed one - simple but clear admission that they are about to hear all the concepts of the site, to keep it secret and that it is my creation( with a little humour.)

Have posted a usb stick (and paper notes) Recorded Delivery and deposited same with a local bank, but is it worth registering with the US Copyright office too? Will it not take too long? Am I not covered under the Berne Convention?



A registration with the US copyright office will help you if you need to enforce the relevant copyright in the US. Constitent with the "no formalities" rule in the Berne Convention, you do get copyright protection in the US without registration, but there are various advantages to registration. See page 7 of this document for details.

I own a training company in a very niche market.  I have discovered a company that has copied my course descriptions / agendas, modified them SLIGHTLY here and there, and posted them as their own.  I have contacted the owner of the site and his staff assures him they did not do this.  However, they are trying to develop leads and then sell the business to me.  If they deny doing this, but I can show the usage of exact wording (include specific punctuation (slashes, dashes, etc.), what is the likelihood that I can get them to stop.  By the way, they are costing me thousands in Google Adwords by competing with me for my own content.

If a text looks to an independent observer like it has been copied from another text, it usually has, and the courts will treat obvious similarity as evidence of copying. The key legal question in this sort of case is usually whether they have copied a "substantial part" of your work. A lawyer would need to compare the two texts to answer this question. Judging just from your brief description of the situation, I wouldn't be surprised if you had a case for copyright infringement here - and therefore the right to make them stop.

The AdWords T&Cs might also be of interest to you.  Clause 10.1 in the UK version says:

Customer represents and warrants that ... Ad Use in accordance with this Agreement and the websites and/or landing pages linked from Customer ads ... shall not ... infringe any intellectual property rights of any third party...

A threat to report a contract breach to Google may be taken more seriously than a threat of full-blown copyright infringement proceedings - because it would be very much easier and less expensive.

Hi. I have a website and I put the copyright symbol followed by the current year at the base of each page. I started writing/building it in 2006, so do have have to put "Copyright symbol 2006-2013 Co name" or can I just put "Copyright symbol 2013 Co name"???

Hi Katie.

The "symbol / owner / year of first publication" style notice came into wide use as a result of the UCC:


The UCC assumed that there was a single year of first publication - which is not usually the case with a website.

To strictly comply with the notice provisions of the UCC, you might need to put a different notice on each blog post etc.

However, because of the widespread adoption of the Berne Convention, the UCC is of limited importance now.

Accordingly, I don't think it matters greatly whether you use a range of years or a single year in your copyright notice. 

Are comments on websites copyrighted? If I saw a comment on a website that I thought was funny or poignant and I used that in a blog I wrote, have I infringed on copyright? Who owns the comment on a website?

In principle, comments on a website may be protected by copyright. To gain protection, the comments would need to "original" and surmount any de minimis principle in the relevant law. In English law, at least, these requirements aren't difficult to meet. For example, there is a good argument that this very comment is sufficiently original and substantial to get protection. However, a court would take a dim view of any attempt to enforce this copyright, because any loss I might suffer from someone copying the comment would be trivial.

The first owner of any copyright in a comment is the comment author. The website operator will usually ask for a licence to use the comments. If there is no express licence, then a licence can usually be implied.


Thank you for this post.

I am rather confused by the extent of which "substantial copying" is defined. 

If one sells chicken soup does this infringe the rights of the "owner" of the chicken soup recipe?

I've recently developed a motion graphics template for sale on the open market that used similar 3D geometry already developed and sold on the open market and have been accused of 'copying' the design when the are numerous differences such a changes in the original geometery, lighting, texturing, camera movement etc. I'm not sure where I stand.

I take it the law is enforced and is relative to the country the works are 'copied' or the 'copier' resides? 

Thanks for any clarification.

For a good summary of this (undefined) concept, see:


Making / selling soup won't infringe any copyright in the recipe, because it does not involve the copying of the protected literary work - rather, it would involve the copying of the instructions encoded in the literary work. This sort of idea is not protected by copyright.

I couldn't usefully comment on your specific situation without knowing all the circumstances (i.e. taking you on as a client).

Copyright law is national. Each legal system has its own rules for determining when an infringing act falls within the jurisdiction of its courts, although these rules do tend to be based on similar principles.

How do copyright and other IP laws impact athlete names and likenesses? More specifically, can an individual artist use an athlete's last name or likeness in a work of art (drawing, painting, or even a silkscreened t-shirt) if that work of art is not offered for sale (it remains the personal property of the artist) and no more than one copy of the work is created?

There is no copyright in most names (they are too short, or "de minimis" in the jargon) or likenesses (they are not "works" protected by copyright).

However, if a likeness were copied from another copyright work - e.g. a photograph or painting - then the act of copying could in principle amount to infringement.

English law does not have a developed concept of "personality rights". The main UK IP rights protecting names and likenesses are trade marks and passing off. These rights can only usually be infringed in a commercial context.  You could I suppose use an artwork for commercial purposes without selling it, and so there is some limited potential for infringement here.

NB some other jurisdictions do have stronger protection for personality rights.

If I want to copyright my website then which documents are required? Please guide me for this. Thanks.

Copyright automatically subsists in many of the different elements of website content. So in one sense you don't need any documents to gain the protection of copyright. However for various reasons it is sensible to include a copyright notice and licence. This is commonly included as part of the website T&Cs.

EDIT: If you are operating in the US then you may want to consider registering the copyrights with the US Copyright Office.

Could you please clarify for me if any copyright infringements are taking place if a member of an internet forum is posting photographs they have found online from various websites, in posts they are making in a discussion forum thread, giving no credit or source to the owner of the photographs or to the website where they have found any of the photographs and presenting them as being part of their own collection.

This may well be copyright infringement, and possibly also infringement of the moral right of paternity

I'll assume that the photographs are still in copyright. The key question then - to be asked in relation to each photo - is whether the member has the permission of the person who owns or controls the copyright in the photograph. If the member doesn't have that permission, then the reproduction of a photo in the context you describe is likely to amount to infringement in English law.

Whether there is any practical remedy for this is, however, another matter.


I am involved in a local campaign and would like to copy a few paragraphs from the (publically available) website of a local councillor to use as evidence of his views on matters relevant to our campaign. The website has the disclaimer "Copyright © xxxx xxxxxx 2012. All rights reserved. Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form, including transmission or storage in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system, except with express written permission, is prohibited. I am seeking no commercial or personal gain from republishing material which he has already placed in the public domain, I just want it to reach a wider audience. The councillor may (not certain) disagree with aims of our campaign and be unhappy with the context in which their comments are displayed. What are your views on this?

Depending upon the exact nature of your use, you might be able to do this under the "fair dealing for the purpose of reporting current events" defence in Section 30(2) of the CDPA 1988. Failing that, this would likely be an infringement - albeit a fairly trivial infringement - without the copyright owner's permission.

Thanks for taking the time to respond; it's appreciated! Having researched the "fair dealing for the purpose of reporting current events" defence I am inclined to go ahead and use this; can you help to quantify the risks involved (I understand you can't be definitive) both to me personally and to our group as an organisation of such a 'fairly trivial' infringment? We are merely republishing something that is already in the public domain and clearly seeking no commercial gain from doing so. What's the worst that can happen, and what (in your view) is most likely to occur. Is there any precedent for this?

Quantifying risks is something that lawyers are usually reluctant to do. In this case, the risk of a complaint depends upon factors that I don't and can't know about (e.g. the personality and legal knowledge of the copyright owner).

The possible consequences, in the event of a complaint, are easier to describe. First, you might get a letter from the copyright owner. Next, you might get a letter from a solicitor demanding removal of the material and some form of payment. Next, you might find yourself on the wrong end of a court claim. Because any damages award would be very low, the courts would likely view any legal action as radically disproportionate, but that doesn't mean there isn't any possibility of a legal claim. I suppose the theoretical worst would be a court judgment with a costs order, but I'd be amazed if it got to that.

If you are worried about the possible consequences and uncertain of the applicablity of the fair dealing defence, why not simply paraphrase?

Hi to all

In the field of Electrical and Electronic Engineering there are thousands of standard formulas, symbols and circuit diagrams from back in the day when Electrical Engineering first started and as such these standard symbols and formulas are used all over in all types of publications both on and off line. For example the symbol of a resistor or the equation for a voltage.

If I reproduce these symbols and equations on my website as part of an electrical tutorial, what copyrights do I have over them as I did not originally create them only redrew them for inclusion online. The tutorial text and examples are of course my own work, but the images, illustrations and formulas. Thanking you in advance.

Hi, I love the work of a particular artist, but as no prints were for sale and I couldn't possibly afford the originals, I decided to paint my own for display at home. Many visitors love the paintings and some have asked me to paint some for them; I do not plan to directly copy the work, but create new paintings "in the style of" which will include elements of the artists work, but no composition will be exactly the same. How do I stand regarding copyright law if I do this?

In general, painting a work in the style of another artist will not infringe that artist's copyright, whereas including "elements of the artist's work" (which I understand to mean particular objects, figures, scenes, landscapes, etc) may very well lead to infringement. In English copyright law the critical test is whether a substantial part of the original work is being copied. In order to advise whether a particular work infringes another with any degree of certainty, a legal adviser would need to see the original and the copy - and even then there may be some uncertainty.

Thanks for your reply Alasdair, it was extremely helpful, although it looks like I will have to develope my own style now! 

I have a website and I have taken some text from another site, but these are 3 sentences. I have now been served with a infringement notice. Is this infringement? I have not taken any quotes or logos; nor have I duplicated any of their personal or business details. While my business is similar to theirs, my website is completely different.

As they I have been served with this notice, what can I do?

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