Dispelling Copyright Myths

Working with academics, researchers, students, curators, marketing and comms. folk and learning teams etc, I have collected some copyright myths over the years that I thought might be useful to dispel! Interestingly, rarely do I come across librarians, information specialists and archivists with the same views on the world – but then it is often down to them to be the ones who dispel the myths. So, all in one place – here goes:

Copyright needs to be registered

Copyright is automatic and does not require registration. Copyright subsists in original literary, dramatic or artistic works (including software and databases) with creativity and effort, and in sound recordings, broadcasts and films from the moment they are created.

 If a work does not display a copyright notice or © it is not covered by copyright

The © is an important indicator that a work is protected, but because copyright protection is automatic, copyright may subsist in a work whether or not a copyright notice is displayed.

 If you own a work, you can copy it

There is a big difference between owning a work and owning the copyright in a work, or otherwise having the right to copy it. For instance, you may own a letter that was written and addressed to you, however the copyright in that letter will belong to its author. You may own a story book, music CD or DVD of a film, but you do not have the right to make copies of such material without permission of the rights owner(s).

 Material on the web is in the public domain and is free to copy

Although publicly accessible and free to copy for personal use (i.e. non commercial research and private study purposes) unless stated otherwise, material published online is unlikely to be in the public domain unless copyright has expired (this is usually many years after the author’s death). In the US, you have the choice of placing works in the public domain (no copyright restrictions), for example the US government has placed many of their works in the public domain. However, in the UK, you cannot place works in the public domain and works only become public domain once copyright has expired. However, you can issue a broad licence to use works on the web such as the UK Open Government Licence

Copyright only prevents copying

Copyright protection is considerably more restrictive than preventing copying only. Copyright owners normally have the exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work
  • issue copies of the work to the public;
  • rent or lend the work to the public;
  • perform, show or play the work in public;
  • communicate the work to the public (this means putting the work online or distributing it via a closed network, like a virtual learning environment);
  • make an adaptation of the work or do any of the above in relation to an adaptation;

Copyright in work produced during the course of your employment belongs to you

In the UK copyright in the work you produce during the course of your employment belongs to your employer unless otherwise agreed between you and your employer. Sometimes, UK Universities will vary this and allow their researchers to retain the rights in their research articles. However, this would still mean that the copyright in any teaching materials would belong to the University.

The copyright in materials produced by students belongs the place in which they are studying

Wrong. The copyright in students works, like dissertations, will normally belong to the students (unless an agreement has been come to otherwise, such as funded research), and the reproduction of which, will require permission from the students as well as suitable provisions made regarding any third party content they include, particularly if the dissertations are digitised and placed online.

 Children are too young to be copyright holders

This is not correct. Copyright ownership does not discriminate on age. The reproduction of copyright works made by children and young adults below the age of 18 (in England, N.Ireland and Wales), will require parental consent or consent from a guardian. This is apart from any safe guarding and Data Protection issues associated with reproducing the children themselves.

Copying a copyright work for internal meetings or presentations does not require permission

Following the reforms to UK copyright law in 2014, there are a few exceptions to copyright that allow some copying without permission for this type of purpose but these are limited. More can be found here. If the public are likely to view such a work, and/or the work is then made accessible on the internet, it is strongly advised that copyright permission is sought.

Copyright in work you have previously had published belongs to you

This is unlikely to be the case. If you have had work published before you may have assigned the copyright to the publisher and will need their permission to reproduce it, depending upon the contractual agreement that underpins such an agreement. At the very least, you will probably have signed an exclusive licence which limits your re-use of your text. Don’t forget that the publisher will own the copyright in the layout (typographic) of your work, which will further limit what you can do.

 If you have been granted permission to use copyright material in the past, you can re-use it in other  publications and reprints

Unfortunately this is not always the case. Licences are usually limited by print-run, context, format or reproduction and sometimes time. Re-use must usually be negotiated with the rights holder or their representative. This means that copyright is very much an information management issue, because it is vital that you keep records regarding what permissions you have been granted, for how long, for what, in what territories etc?

 As long as I acknowledge the author, I don’t need permission to copy their work

Although authors have a ‘moral right’ to be acknowledged as the author of a work (apart from employees), ensuring you do this does not negate your obligation to obtain their permission to copy their work if your use is not under one of the exceptions to copyright.

 The author is dead so I do not need permission to copy their work

Generally, the legal term of copyright in a work lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which its creator died. Some works (such as unpublished text based works) will remain in copyright until 2039 in the UK, even if they are centuries old. This last issue will form a future blog post and has already been the subject of a major campaign co-ordinated by LACA and CILIP in 2014: Free Our History

Your can use a disclaimer and can always get permission retrospectively

This is still an infringement as permission has not been secured. Permission sought retrospectively, (unless you have a contract with the rights holder or their agent that allows you to do this), may be refused after you have used a third party’s work, is reputationally, financially and legally risky, and time-consuming efforts to put things right.

©Naomi Korn, 2016. Some Rights Reserved. This article may be reused and shared under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence

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