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Ownership and related rights

Copyright ownership and licensing

Copyright ownership primarily rests with the creator/author, but there are exceptions in law and ownership can also be transferred, sold or waived.

Copyright exists the moment a work has been created and requires no assignment, registration nor a copyright symbol. The absence of a copyright symbol © or a name does not mean the work is not protected by copyright. permission would be required for it to be reused as with any other copyright work.

Do you own copyright?

  • Exceptions in Law

    • Employer ownership:

      Where something has been created in the normal course of employment i.e. part of expected duties, the copyright belongs to the employer unless otherwise agreed/contracted. (CDPA 1988 s.11(2)) e.g. Middlesex University includes a copyright policy in the staff handbooks which clarifies the copyright position of work produced by staff.

    • Typographical /Publishers Copyright:

      In published works, the publisher owns the copyright in the typographical arrangement of the published edition, which lasts for 25 years from the end of year of first publication (CDPA 1988 s.9(2d)). This includes Editors notes/amendments, Content/Index listings, footnotes etc.

    • International Organisations:

      e.g. Crown Copyright owned by the Queen (see the National Archives website)

  • Sale/Contract/Agreement

    • Publishing

      Copyright can be assigned to another party by formal contract or agreement e.g. publisher agreements usually require the author to assign all rights to the publisher prior to publication.

      However, when signing publisher agreements it is advisable that you formally retain the right for you and your institution to use your work freely for any educational purpose, otherwise permission must be sought for all subsequent uses. Remember it is an agreement between two or more parties, under which you are within your rights to negotiate before you sign e.g. to request additional terms or amendments.

    • Research

      Several parties may have a claim on the Copyright of a research project.

      • the funding body could claim ownership as they are financing the project. Always check the funding agreement.
      • the University could potentially claim joint ownership for providing the staff, support and/or facilities.

      • researcher/s could own the copyright if not employed specifically for the project by the University or funding body.

      • Collaborative research projects with external institutions will be afforded joint copyright ownership.
      • A joint copyright may exist between all the above parties.

      Where there is a joint ownership of the copyright, permission would be required from all involved before further use of the work can be made e.g. publication

      Therefore, to avoid disputes at a later stage, it is advisable to clarify and reach an agreement on the copyright ownership with all parties involved at the start of a project.


    • Transfer

      Formal transfer of rights via donation or inheritance.

    • Waiver

      Copyright owners may waive some or all rights by formal statement i.e. either by lifting restrictions for certain uses e.g. republication or multiple copying and distribution for teaching or allowing any use, otherwise known as placing into the 'Public Domain' if ALL rights are waived.

    • Public Domain

      This term normally applies to work for which the copyright protection period has expired e.g. 70 years after the death of the creator, or where all rights have been waived.

  • Additional Rights

    • Moral Rights

      Moral rights unlike Copyright cannot be sold or transferred but must be asserted unless they are to be waived.
      Moral rights last for the life of the copyright except for false attribution which only lasts for 20 years from the death of the creator.

      Moral Rights do not apply if the employer owns the copyright.

      There are 4 main moral rights:

      • to be identified as the author/creator (Paternity Right)

      • to object to derogatory treatment

      • to privacy in certain photographs and film (commissioned for private, domestic purposes)

      • not to have another's work falsely attributed

    • Performance Rights:

      Unlike copyright, performance rights remain with the performer, even if performed in the course of employment e.g. a lecturer retains performance rights in the delivery of a lecture, although the lecture slides, handouts, notes etc. may belong to the University.

      If you record a lecture or a performance by staff or fellow students, you will require permission or a signed release form.
      For dramatic or musical performances, a formal release form must be signed by the performer giving permission for the video/audio recording and any subsequent use of the recording.
      Sample forms can be found via the JISC Legal website.

  • Protecting your rights

    • Assert your Rights:

      Always assert your rights by putting your name to your work, identifying you as the author/creator. Copyright automatically subsists from the moment a work is created in tangible form but Moral Rights need to be asserted.

    • Permissions

      As Copyright owner, if you wish to lift certain restrictions in Copyright Law e.g. copying for teaching/instruction or any educational purpose, you must state this. Equally you must obtain permission to use someone else's material unless your use falls under a statutory provision or a licence.

    • Licences

      If you wish to retain control over who does what, when and how, you may licence particular uses for specified periods of time to individuals/organisations.

      Creative Commons is a licensing scheme introduced in the US which allows rights owners to attach a licence to digitised works using symbols, specifying permitted uses outside of the legal exceptions.

      For instance, a licence can be attached to specify attribution only (acknowledgement only), or attribution and non-commercial publication. You can learn more about Creative Commons symbols and licences here.

      CC licences are unsuitable where third party rights are included.

    • Proof of ownership

      In order to prove that you are the original creator/author of a newly created work, in the event of a dispute, it has been suggested a copy of the material is mailed to yourself or someone in a position of trust, but not opened when the package arrives. The Post Office postmark will act as proof of when the material was first created. Any official date stamp e.g. a bank stamp would serve the same purpose if the material is in a sealed package and remains sealed until presented as proof, as required.
      Material can also be placed in a safe deposit box or with a solicitor, provided that an official log is kept of the deposit and any subsequent access.

    • Ideas

      Ideas or designs for an original creation do not qualify for copyright protection but should be protected by design or patent registration. Copyright only protects a tangible creation.

    • Designs

      Designs can be afforded copyright protection as Artistic works but can also be registered in order to protect copying or unauthorised commercial exploitation.

    • Patents

      A patent can protect a design or idea for a new invention if it is novel/original. Therefore it is important that you keep your idea a secret.

For more information on Intellectual Property please see the following document:

Intellectual Property Rights: Students

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