10 things you should know about … copyright

20 Mar 2012
Alasdair Taylor

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.


Without doing some research on this, I’m not aware of any case law that defines the borderline between business uses of copyright materials and non-business uses.

NB Whilst this phrase (“in the course of a business”) is used in the CDPA 1988, it is not the only relevant phrase. See:


In 107(1)(b) then the draftsperson uses “otherwise than for his private and domestic use” as an alternative phrase. The suggestion might be that “in the course of a business” is not the opposite of “for private and domestic use”.

Hi there,

I am basically being accused of infringement, although my company name is completely different, and the only time I use their name is when I let others know where I used to work in my description either on the write up, or on my website in the category ‘about us’ … as in ‘former long time members of …’, or as seen in …’ . Is that infringement?

I’d need more information to give a definitive answer here – I’d need to review the communications with the other company, speak to you, etc. That said, this doesn’t sound like the type of situation where trade mark infringement claim is typically sustainable.

I am self-employed English Teacher working as a private tutor. I want to make online educational video courses to sell to students of English Literature and Language. Sometimes I will provide a commentary on a written text that is copyrighted. It may be a quotation from a sentence used in a book or an article. So the full sentence or words used in that sentence will be quoted verbally on film, for the video and will be followed by an explanation of how that particular sentence or use of words is relevant and important. The actual sentence will not be written down or reproduced on screen, other than verbally, which is then recorded and makes up part of a course which the student will buy. Is this infringing on copyright?

I want to produce some instructional videos to explain some existing philosophical and social theories. Obviously I don’t own the theories and many are newer and some of them have drawn visualisations. Can I recreate visuals of the theories without infringing copyright?

Hi, I have a range of t-shirts that i am considering producing. The theme of the prints are to be based on pop-culture and comic book icons without using the character images. However I am using words, phrases etc that allude to the character. I want to find out whether or not I would be infringing any copyright laws. Could I send you some images for your advice?

Thanks, but I don’t currently undertake this type of advisory work. These days my work focuses upon IT law.


I’m soon to go live with a website that I created. I have been inspired A LOT by another one. The feel and the layouts and structure are VERY SIMILAR. However, the text, the pictures and the even the language is different. 

Am I at risk to infringe copyright ? 

Thank you in advance

As a matter of English law, website “look and feel” is not usually protected by copyright, but there are cases where some form of protection may arise. A lawyer would need to see the websites to comments further about this.

I am wanting to create a new website for selling Amazon part of Amazon Associate Program. I would like some insight on a good URL to use. That doesn’t break any of the laws concerning trade marks or confuses anyone. 

Hi Alasdair,

I’m in the process of writing a non-fictional book on a company following its products and services.

The overall tone is fairly critical of the company in question. Beside the libel concerns, I’d like to know two things about copyright infirngement, please.

1. Can I use parts or entire comments (from one sentence to ten, sometimes with snippets **[…]** inbetween) taken from/posted on discussion websites such as forums (or in the comment section under articles and reviews) by users (and identifying them of course) under the fair use doctrine?

As I intend to quote users comments taken directly from the company website, and considering the (negative) tone of my book, asking for permission is out of the question.

I will obviously place them in context and comment them. They are quite essential to prove and illustrate the claims/arguments and explanations I make in the book and thus needed. They could even help against libel maybe?

2. Same question but about exerts from articles (and also  comments under them), reviews or studies. Can I use quote from them on the fair use basis knowing that I couldn’t get authorization because of the negative depicting nature of my analysis and (my) comments on their articles, studies or reviews?

What about if I treat positively the article (and the writer of the article or comment) I quote from, can I forego asking for the authorisations too?

If you could answer, that would be of great help, thank you.

Hi, I want to describe the main events of the film Forbidden Planet in my novel. The description will be interwoven with remarks and comments made by two of the novel’s characters as they watch the film on DVD. Would this description constitute an infringement of the film’s copyright?

I am writing an e-book that will have two or three quotes from an online dictionary, which I will reference. Would this be considered “Fair Use” or would I need to get specific permission from them?

I posted content (articles) written by myself on a friend’s website; the working relationship is no longer productive and I would like to move my work elsewhere. Who owns the content I wrote? Can I publish the content elsewhere? Can the person request I do not publish it elsewhere? Do I need to give credit back to the original website? Can I ask to have the content I wrote removed from the original website? I am unsure of my rights, there was no written agreement. The work I would like to republish will not be for financial gain; the website my work was originally published is in the USA, my website is in the UK.

Good day. Can an author use public images found on the internet, such as Pinterest or Instagram for example, to use for his/her book cover without infringing upon copyright violations?

Thanks in advance.

I wanted to ask: if there is a product image on Amazon and I wanted to use it on Instagram online retailing business. So, can I use that image ? 

Unless you have permission to do so, that will likely be an infringement of copyright. Short answer: no.

Hi, i recently purchased from a marketing company, a little video of a bear that looks like a well-known movie bear and it says some things about my store but the sound does sound like the well-known bear speaking. Will this get me in trouble?

I want to develop a site that displays news headlines from other rss sources mentioning the sources and having link to them (the their original article).

1. Headlines are not copyright protected, so doing this it does not consist copyright infringement, am i correct?

2. Also, if i want to reproduce a small part of the original article what is the de minimis number of words i can use without violating copyright? Would be ok to e.g. use as an excerpt an up-to 20 words sentence of the article?

3. If i create an automatic summary combining in one new paragraph 2-5 random sentences of the original article, is this a copyright infringement?

I appreciate your answer

1. Headlines may be protected.  See:


2. There is no specific word number that means you know you are in the clear.  The test is qualitative not quantative.

3. Potentially, yes.

The T&Cs covering the RSS feeds may however give you the required rights: you would need to check them on a case-by-case basis.

I am looking to run a photographic competition with some students and I will be using some of the winning photos on my website and future marketing materials. What legal disclaimer/documentation do I require the competitor to sign in order to allow me to do use their photos?


I would like to make a fashion blog, with pictures I take from the internet. Impossible to contact all picture rights holders. I will sell access to my fashion blog, so this will be a commercial website.

I heard that some countries have not signed the Berne Convention and have no copyright protection laws on pictures.

If I base my company which owns that website in one of these countries, would I still do something illegal?



I regularly take photographs for a client with whom I issue a ‘License to Use’ the photgraphs for xyz for x number of years with the appropriate t’s and c’s. The client has now stating issuing purchase order numbers with various t’s and c’s one of which says:

All Intellectual Property and other rights in and to the product of the Services (including the Deliverables or any part of them) or which otherwise arise under or in connection with the Contract and its performance shall be the property of the Customer, and the Supplier hereby assigns (or agrees to procure that any relevant third party will assign) absolutely with full title guarantee all such Intellectual Property and other rights to the Customer. The Supplier shall however, be entitled to use the same for the purpose of performing the Services for the duration of the Contract.’ 

This looks to me that agreeing to their terms I would be handing over my copyright.

My question is who’s t’s and c’s take precedence, mine with the invoice and License to Use or my clients Purchase Order t’s and c’s?

What do you think?

Many thanks


I have come across a web site selling my books online. They have not asked my permission, and they have not reached an agreement with me, unlike Amazon etc who agree to sell my books at a set price, with a proportion being returned to me. What is the best approach to ask them to stop marketing my word without agreement from me? Are they in breach of copyright?

I have an idea for my website. I will take pictures of my books, convert them into PDFs and upload it to my website. Is this legal or illegal? Please let me know.

This could, in principle, infringe copyright in book cover artwork. The exact issues/risks will depend upon how the pictures are used.

I’d like to write sports books detailing results and history of sports organisations. How would I go about this? Would I be infringing trademarks or copyright laws if I was to release a book with season-by-season statistics on a professional sports team?

My husband was commissioned to paint 4 works of art in oil on canvas for a local restaurant. The process to arrive at the particular final images, (in this case cows), was first suggested by my husband the artist and also researched by him. He provided images of cows to the client and discussed the direction with the client. The client liked this direction and when presented by my husband the various digital layouts of the cows, the client  “tweaked” his ideas / compositions and then claimed that her sketched “tweaks” made her an co-owner of the finished paintings. She since reproduced the cow paintings to hang in all her restaurants without our knowledge or consent. 10 restaurants in total. Is she a co-author or is this copyright infringement?

Hello. I am building a website for which the client has indicated some images he wishes to use. As the images have been sourced from another site, and are submitted to that site by the photographers, it is certain that these images are copyright. My client is happy to await a ‘cease and desist’ letter, but as the site builder what, if any, is my liabilty?

You would be primarily liable for an infringement as developer and/or host (along with your client). I suggest you ask the client to get stock photography from one of the many stock sites.

Thank you for your response. I had already told my client I would not be happy working with copyright images, and had located a local photographer who offered free use of original photos. This offer was declined.

It may interest (amuse?) you to know that my client is a barrister.

Hi, I have developed a software solution, entirely from my home, which greatly improves an aspect of my work (health service) dealing with patient care, and using software writing skills I learnt a number of years ago (I’m not employed in IT). The idea was primarily as a working demonstration of what could be done to greatly improve things. There is currently no alternative automated solution, and in fact, the existing manual method carries not insignificant patient-safety risks. The software was developed and tested using artificial permutation tables at home (no real data used). My work is very interested in using this solution to the extent that it’s use is about to be included in a Standard Operation Prodedure (it’s in official draft format at the moment)

For just over 1 year my work has been using this solution – I installed it at the two primary users sites (on a test basis (for functionality testing), and nothing discussed on an ownership basis).

In order to provide its intended functionality the artificial tables used at home are replaced by a real data table while at at work. A small amount of testing takes place by myself before pushing out as an update. This was done by myself for the last several years, and more recently, I have designed an auto update facility to do this automatically (the source tables change over time). 

Could you let me know where I stand on copyright…by allowing my workplace to use this (as a testbed) have I lost ownership?

For an outline of the rules on ownership of copyright, see:


In general, you cannot transfer copyright without a written and signed document.

So, it seems likely (although I cannot be certain without getting more details) that you retain ownership of the copyright in the software you created.

Your employer is likely to have a licence of some description to use the software. Without anything being in writing, it is difficult to know what the terms of the licence are. I suggest that you consult a suitable experience lawyer with a view to agreeing written licensing terms. If you would like the name of someone, let me know (eg using our website contact form).

Hi, I am in the ecommerce space and we intend to sell products of various companies through our site. We need some clarification on a particular product vertical ie books. We would like to have the picture of the cover of the book loaded on the website so that customers are able to related with the book. Would this be a copyright infrigement. We are not making any modification nor selling any copy of the product. We are selling the original book procured through authorised distributors of the publishing house. Please advise.


I’m looking to produce a piece of software but noticed it will have a similar layout and design to a competitor of mine. Mine however is considerably more advanced and specifically targets a different audience.

The design similarities only revolve around an Outlook calendar type design and using a colour coding meeting type request. Do you think I will have a problem?



I’d need to compare the designs to answer this question with any confidence. However, I can say that: (a) the layout of software user interfaces isn’t usually protected as by copyright, at least under English law (see http://www.lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/intellectual-property/b/copyright-trademark-law-blog/archive/2011/02/01/european-court-rules-on-user-interface-copyright.aspx); (b) if the design elements are used in lots of different software applications by lots of different publishers, that’s a good indication that they are not protected by copyright; and (c) nothing in your description of the situation raises any red flags.

Hi, We are planning to do a public awareness campaign ,and we have our own concept to do this … and we don’t want others to use this before we apply this … can we apply for copyright and protect our concept?

Concepts in general are not protected by copyright, although materials that you generate for the campaign may be protected by copyright.

Under English law, there is no need to register to gain copyright protection.

If you need to disclose the concept to others, you may wish to do so under an NDA, which could protect the concept as confidential informaiton.

I’m looking at possibly copyrighting a surname so this name can not be used by anyone else and want to know the legal rights I have. There are individuals that are claiming this surname that I would rather not be using at all and want this applied so I can sue or have it removed so they go by a different surname other than the family name.

Generally, and certainly under English law, surnames cannot be protected using copyright. If a surname is being used in the course of trade, it may however be protected to some extent by a registered or unregistered trade mark.

After signing up to a forum and posting my copyright articles, photos, and graphics. Can the forum company take ownership of them?, merely by stating that it was in the “browsewrap” agreement?

As several courts have noted, assented is even more attenuated in browsewrap agreements than in the clickwrap or shrinkwrap contexts because “user[s] can continue to use the website or its services without visiting the page hosting the browsewrap agreement or even knowing that such a webpage exists.” Be In, Inc. v. Google Inc., No. 12-cv-03373-LHK, 2013 WL 5568706, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 9, 2013). As a result, courts generally require users have actual or constructive knowledge of a website’s terms and conditions before enforcing browsewrap agreements. Nguyen, 763 F.3d at 1176; Van Tassell v. United Mktg. Grp., LLC, 795 F. Supp. 2d 770, 790 (N.D. Ill. 2011); Sw. Airlines Co. v. BoardFirst, LLC, No. 06-CV-0891-B, 2007 WL 4823761, at *4 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 12, 2007); see also Lemley, Terms, supra at 477.

I’m not sure of the position under US law.

Under English law, there is an IPR point in addition to the contractual acceptance point. A legal (vs equitable) assignment of copyright needs to be in writing and signed by or on behalf of the assignor. A browsewrap (as defined here) would not fulfil the signature requirement.

I want to compile questions asked in different examination. But I want it to be specific to a certain book. Means can I write on my book that questions are based on this specific book. All the questions would be original and are facts (general knowledge) but specific to a book.

What all problems can I land into.

I want to publish in india and as india has borrowed a lot from English law so I thought you might help.

The most obvious potential issue here is copyright infringement, but there may be others.

You should ask an Indian lawyer about this – although Indian law has been heavily influenced by English law in the past, there are very likely relevant differences.

I am considering publishing a book which would contain user reviews of products on retailers’ websites. Are there any copyright issues here? I imagine that the only candidates for copyright are the reviewer or the retailer.

In the vast majority of cases, and providing the review is reasonably substantial and “original”, the user will be the first copyright owner, although the retailer should have some kind of licence from the user. Depending upon the terms of the licence, the retailer could also have rights to enforce the copyright. In any case, you should get permission.

Hi there,

I am thinking of starting my own website which in effect be a sector job board competing against another sector specific job board. What makes my idea different is that it is only focusing on 2-4 types of professions within the sector whereas the established job board advertises jobs across whole sector. Is setting up this business got any potential legal implications.

The reason I ask is because I am considering using the 1 word (which actually defines the sector) in my business name- the obvious example I can use is ‘pound world’ and ‘pound land’, obviously pound is a word that has been used many a times, so similarly I am thinking of using 1 similar word but the rest of the business name will be different.

What, if any are the legal implications of this?

Usually, the use of words that describe generic sectors, products or services will not trespass upon anyone’s trade mark rights.

In English law, descriptive trade marks are not usually registrable. See for example s3(1) of the Trade Marks Act 1994, which excludes from protection “trade marks which consist exclusively of signs or indications which may serve, in trade, to designate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin, the time of production of goods or of rendering of services, or other characteristics of goods or services”.

As regards the English law tort of passing off, this requires a misrepresentation and resulting confusion, which wouldn’t usually be constituted by the use of a generic descriptive term.

In other words, you can’t get into legal trouble for using the word “bananas” in relation to the sale and supply of bananas.

If you are however concerned about this point, I suggest you take proper legal advice. It is not possible to be sure whether there is a material risk without looking at the specific trade marks in question, including examining registration and usage.


I’m writing a teen read/young adult novel. I wish to use song lyrics to help set the time and place. I’m literally talking about the occasional line from maybe 10 songs across the whole book.

I also may use quotes from famous people – Gandhi, Mandela and maybe some current politicians and newspaper headlines. 

From my reading, I think this all falls into fair use – what do you think?

Are you concerned with the US legal doctrine of fair use, or the English law equivalent, fair dealing – or the copyright law of some other country?

To put the question another way: where do you propose to publish?

I would like to know more on the use of a title. We are a Inc. that houses the “the birthplace of little league” – the field from which little league started. Are we entitled to copyright the title “the birthplace of little league”?

That sounds like a question for a US lawyer, although the question may really be: can you get registered trade mark protection for the phrase?

Hi there. I worked for a client for a few years. I made a marketing and SEO strategy for them and accordingly rebranded their company and redesigned their website in the way we could have cloned them for SEO purpose.

We wrote in the foorter “Website by” me having discussed that before with the client. We put these websites in our portfolio.

Now we do not work anymore with them and as soon as they have another web designer, they manage to replace the writing adding the new web designer name even when he didn’t made the project nor the design of the concept and websites.

We pointed out that they are damaging us because the website are currently on our portfolio and morally it’s not right what they are saying.

We asked them to change the writing into “Managed by” the new designed instead but they say it’s their right to do as they please.

Is there anything we can do? Is it right that the new company is displaying the website as made by them?


Possible bases of legal argument that spring to mind here are:

  • the moral right of paternity;
  • defamation or the tort of malicious falsehood; and
  • your contract with the client (did you have anything in writing?).

However, because of the costs of litigation, it is rarely worth taking this sort of dispute to court.

Hi, I’m thinking of selling items/artwork which use famous quotes or sayings. If it is a short quote, i.e. phrase or sentance not an enitre article and the author is referenced can I use it without a licence? I hope you can help, I’ve looked at various articles published on copyright but they don’t reference artwork quotes – more quotes used in articles which is not the same usage. 

The courts have sometimes in the past applied treated very short “works” (notably, newspaper headlines) as protected by copyright, so I guess there is some risk here. See:


In many cases, however, quotes may be unprotected as de minimis.

Also, as it’s hard to see how someone could suffer any loss (unlike eg records, you can’t sell quotes) the risk is probably low (but still present).

Hi there – a dilema for you. I employ Shutterstock to sell my vector artwork under 2 types of license – standard and commercial.  I have now discovered that some vector artwork of mine has been obtained without a commercial license in China. The Chinese manufacturer is producing my artwork on stickers and selling this globally. 3 UK companies are selling my designs to wholesalers in sticker packs each with their own barcode, header card and company logos on them. I have challenged the 3 UK companies with a standard Cease & Desist letter asking them to stop selling them and if they want a commercial license to contact me (we are talking pennies here not a get rich quick scheme). So far only 1 has responded claiming they have a right to sell them and are trying to fob me of by telling me to sue the manufacturer in China and bog off. What I am wanting is to stop the sale of these goods with my design and nothing else, as trying to sue a chinese company is futile. I appreciate that the UK companies are classed as ‘Secondary’ Infringers and I cannot claim damages, but now that they are aware this is copyright infringement (proved), if they still continue to sell, can I legally get them to stop selling these items without it costing me substantial fees which is not a viable option for me?

I’ve translated a French novel into English which is still subject to copyright in most jurisdictions save that of Canada (thanks to a different copyright duration beyond the author’s death). Presumably I am free to print and publish in Canada.

How is “publish” defined? If I sold copies on a Canadian internet address to individuals living in the UK would I be in breach of UK copyright law? What if copies drifted across the border into the US, would I similarly be in breach?



I am looking to produce ebook guides (with PDF counterparts) for how to make replicas of weapons/items from a range of video games.  As I will be creating all the templates from scratch (based on the dimensions/colours of the original in-game items) and the ebook/PDF won’t contain of the original game art, would this infringe copyright/trademarks of the original artwork/game companies?

Thank you for any help you can offer.

Hi Alasdair

This is one of the most helpful sites I have found on this issue. So, thanks!

Like Robert I would like to sell a range of merchadise with images from 1970s and 1980s UK children’s comics on them. The difference is that I want to use the actual images from the comics. Does the 70 year copyright law apply to images in comics or is it 25 years (which would then open up the prospect of using images from the 70s and 80s)? What if I did not reproduce the images but actually cut them from the original publication and used them to make unique one off items like key rings or cards?

Under the 1988 Act, the special 25 year protection period in respect of “articles” that are made by an “industrial process” will not affect graphic works published in comics, as they are primarily of a literary/artistic character. See:


To be sure of the nature of the protection given to any pre-1988 Act work, you need to check the transitional provisions in that Act, and also the position under the 1956 Act.

It does seem likely, however, that you would need permission for the uses you propose. Have you tried getting permission?

Hi Alasdair

Thanks for your response. Not what I was hoping to hear but important to know all the same. I have not sought permission to use the images from their owners so that is something I will look at and work out if it is practical or not. On the cutting up of the actual comics themselves and using them as the primary materials this does seem to be more of a grey area. I have been several stalls at craft fairs selling items featuring Marvel characters and on closer inspection I see that these are made from the original frames from the stories in the comics. This approach has the additional attraction of making each item unique. Do you think this is a safe option or would you still advise caution and seeking permission even for this approach?

Whether this amounts to infringement will, I think, depend upon exactly what is being done.  Eg selling a framed image that has been cut from a comic wouldn’t usually be an infringement; whereas some uses (eg a collage incorporating cuttings from a comic) could amount to an adaptation. See:


Another possibiility is that the moral right of “integrity” could be engaged.

In principle there could also be trade mark / passing off issues, although again it depends.

Good Evening,

I need clarification and if anyone could help me, it may save me a lot of hassle, wasted time designing and/or legal action.

I am starting my own eBay store up, seperate to my own personal account. In this store I am planning on selling t-shirts, hoodies and other garments all with printed vinyl drawings I have hand drawn myself.

Some of these are characters from Marvel films and TV shows – ie Iron Man’s head, the Hulk’s head, The IT Crowd – and sayings from the films / shows.

 will not be advertising these as “Official Merchandise”; and as previously stated these are my own creations I have hand drawn, printed off on a vinyl cutter and heat pressed to garments.

Am I opening myself up for law suits against me? Does my own creation itself become my own copyright regardless of if it’s a real character created by someone else?

Am I being naive in thinking I’m perfectly fine? I would like to know that Disney isn’t going to sue me for trying to make a few pounds to pay for my masters degree.

I am a talented drawer and graphic designer and I consider anything I create my intellectual property regardless of if its trade-marked “officially”.

Can anyone help me here before I possibly make a mistake that I don’t believe I am doing.

Many thanks in advance for any replies.

Best regards,


Hi Robert. There is a real risk here of trade mark infringement, passing-off and/or copyright infringement. Brand owners do regularly pursue small businesses that infringe their IPR. The extent of the risk will vary from product to product, and I suggest you seek proper legal advice before going any further with this.


I have recently started making bespoke handmade 3d letters that are decorated in Lego or comics. Obviously I own the Lego and comics. I’d like to know If I am breaking any copyright laws by selling these letters? I have asked to join a selling page and I’ve been told I can’t sell them because of copyright. 


… exactly what you mean by “3d letters that are decorated in Lego or comics”.  Are you able to send me a link to an image of one?

I am a song lyricist and collaborate with several composers to create complete songs. Occasionally those collaborations don’t bear fruit and either I find a new collaborator or park the lyrics with a view to working on them another day.

My work, therefore, often passes through two or three pairs of hands. I am conscious that makes me vulnerable to plagiarism/theft.

I use a copyright protection service, of which your blog is somewhat derisory.  What do you recommend I do to protect my work?

Thank you for the very useful information. One more on board games – to assert copyright on design elements (in conjunction with finished rules), is a full and perfect 3D prototype model necessary, including all parts, fully finished professional designs etc, or is it sufficient to use a printed 2D mock up, with themes, colour schemes and clear identity but still a bit rough round the edges? Thanks! H

Copyright may well subsist in mock-ups, but it does depend upon the exact nature of the material in question. For example, mock-up cover art is likely to be protected as a graphic work if the images are a little below production quality. On the other hand, a rough hand drawing of a board design might well not be sufficiently “original” (in the special copyright sense) to attract protection. See:


I created a website for my employer in my own time and at my own home. It was not part of my contract of employment to do so, I offered as their previous website had been removed and I have the skill to build websites as this is a hobby of mine. This is backed up by 3 other people being employed during my period of employment who all had the same job title and contract of employment yet none of them did any website work whatsoever so it obviously did not form part of my contract of employment therefore I believe it cannot be considered to be part of my normal employment.

I received no payment for this work (approx 30-40 hours) which involved creating the design, writing all the code in html, css and javascript and incorporating scripts from other sources whose copyright was included in the code. I included my copyright notice in the coding of every page and also on every displayed page. My employer checked the website at various times during my development of the site so must have seen the copyright notice on the displayed pages.

Updates, textual changes and amendments were undertaken at my place of work in my normal working hours but these were “cosmetic” in that all the code to create the design and functionality of the site was done outside of normal hours at my home address.

My understanding of UK copyright law (Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 and amendments) is that, as this was not within my contract of employment and no payment was made for this work, that I own the copyright to the code though not the text as this was put together with my employer, nor images as they were the property of my employer being taken from work which was produced by the company.

I have now left that employment of my own volition and my now ex-employer is claiming ownership of the website.

Can anyone advise on who is right in this matter please?

The test under the CDPA is not whether the work was within a contract of employment, but whether the work “is made by an employee in the course of his employment” (Section 11(2)).

It’s not possible to give a definitive answer to your question without more information, but assuming (i) the main part of the work was done at home in your own time, and (ii) your employment contract doesn’t say anything to the contrary, it is certainly arguable that you would be the owner of copyright in the materials that you produced.

However, even if you are the owner, that doesn’t necessarily determine the practical issues. It is likely that you have granted a licence of some description to your former employer. The terms of that licence are inevitably going to be uncertain, but it is those terms that will probably determine the practical issues. For instance:

  • Does your ex-employer have a right to update the website, to use the code for other websites, to redistribute the website?
  • Can you terminate the licence to the employer?
  • Do you have a right to reuse the website code or supply it to others?

You are unlikely to get a very clear answer to these questions, short of asking a judge.

Hi, I used to publish industry-related news to my company website from various sources (same to same, without any or very little amendment).

I always mentioned the source of the news (name of the organization or website) at the end of the news.

Recently the Press Association (PA) fined us for using their copyright materials. I published that news from a certain source, which I mentioned at the bottom of the news.

Now my question is – did I really break copyright law? Or, has the PA misunderstand the issue?

It would be really helpful for me if you please answer my question.

Thank you.

Whilst I cannot be 100% sure without knowing all the details, it is likely that you have infringed copyright in the news articles that you copied.

So, according to law, even I mention the source, I can’t publish any news without the copyright. Have I got it right?

What about if I change the words and then publish any news? Will it still be catagorised as infringing copyright? 

Thank you for your cooperation.

You can publish news – you just can’t reproduce the words written by others to communicate that news.

In relation to short factual written works such as news stories, rewriting may solve the problem – but it does depend how much is changed. A rough-and-ready test for this is to compare the original piece and the rewritten pieces. If it is apparent to reader that the second is derived from the first, then you may still be in copyright infringement territory.

Hi, I want to download some old photos from a website. The site says to ask for permission as these are copyrighted. I thought photographs this old could not be under a copyright any more? The website with the photos is closed at the moment, so permission cannot be asked for.

I’m not particularly familiar with the history of photographic copyright in the UK, let alone internationally. That said, photographs have attracted protection under English law since the mid-19th century, and simply because a work is very old doesn’t necessarily mean that copyright has expired.

It is a difficult undertaking to establish whether copyright in an historic work still subsists. In order to do so, you first need to know the history of the work (who created it? where was it created? when was it created? has it been published? if so, where and when has it been published?).

When you have all the factual history to hand, the really hard work starts. You can’t just apply modern legislation to the work.  Instead, you need to trace the effects of the special statutory provisions in each piece of copyright legislation that deal with copyright works pre-dating the legislation. Many years ago I spent the best part of a day doing this in the Law Society library in respect of a single work. Because of this complexity, establishing the copyright status of a historic work in even a single jurisdiction is not at all easy.

There might be some special rule in relation to photographic copyrights that makes the answer plain – but if there is, I don’t know it.

Hi, I have found a commercial website using two of my images. I have challenged the website owner, who has referred me to the website builder. Who should I be chasing?

Thank you.

Depending upon the specific circumstances, one or both may be liable.

If both are potentially liable, then you could of course pursue both. An alternative approach would be to go after the person that has: (a) the most assets; and/or (b) the most accessible assets (e.g. assets in your jursidiction).

In the process of creating a website for myself as a freelance brand consultant. Potential clients need some information and back ground about me, so website acts as a bio/portfolio. On the website, I will include some brand “stories” which are my personal summaries of brand experience over the years. They includes references to companies I have worked with such as Unilever, Nivea & Nike. I want to use images, or logos or advertisements from those companies to compliment the text I have written.

Obviously, I do not own copy right for these images as the companies do! But given I am commenting/reporting on historical events, that I was involved with whilst I worked at ad agencies, does this application of images come under “fair usage or not?”

Thanks Tracey

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?

Three sentences could in principle amount to a substantial part of a work, and their copying might therefore amount to an infringement. On the othe hand, if the sentences are unoriginal, hackneyed, banal or mundane, they might not be sufficiently substantial to warrant protection. As so often in these cases, it depends upon the a particulars.

What has the copyright owner demanded that you do? Was the notice sent by the copyright owner, or their lawyers?

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! 

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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. 

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.


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.

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.

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.

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”.

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. 

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?

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.

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.

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