Five things you never knew about copyright

No verbal assignment

A lot of people don’t realise that you have to assert the assignment of copyright in writing. You can’t give copyright away verbally – if a client tries to get you to do this, it isn’t necessarily going to be legally binding. Somebody has to put it in writing, so they would need to have something saying what you’ve agreed to and what has been assigned.

Avoid work for hire

Watch out for ‘work for hire’ – it’s an American term that isn’t recognised in the UK. People do put it in contracts, and it can become legally binding if they define it. In America, ‘work for hire’ means you’re an employee. In Britain, that would make them the owner of your copyright but, in America, it means they’re actually seen as having created your work.

Control and reputation

Copyright isn’t just about money – it’s also a matter of control and reputation. If a client owns your copyright and sells your work into a stock library, it could then end up being used in a situation that you don’t approve of, such as for a political party you would never support. If you sell your copyright, you don’t know where your work might end up in the future.

Limited exceptions

‘Fair use’ doesn’t mean any use that you think is fair. In Britain, we have clear exceptions to copyright, such as reproducing something for criticism or review, or because it’s in the public interest, for example. It might sound like something that plays into the hands of people who want to exploit work without remuneration, but we do have clear parameters.

Equal value

Copyright isn’t affected by the quality of your work or how long it took you. It’s the use that matters. Consider every piece of work that you do as being equally important in copyright terms. Every client that gets away with buying assigned (full) copyright for the wrong amount of money will try it on again with the next person and the one after.