Copyright for your business

Contractors and copyright

Guide

If one of your employees creates an original work while working for you, the copyright will normally belong to your business. If you use contractors, the law says that the creator (in this case the contractor) is the first owner of the copyright in a work.

Therefore, unless you specify otherwise in a contract, it is likely that the contractor who creates original works for you will own the copyright in them.

Copyright in contracts

If you use contractors on a regular basis, you should consider including clauses in your contract with them to ensure that the copyright in the work is transferred to your business. This must be in writing and signed by the contractor.

In any event, you should make the copyright situation clear in writing if you use a contractor to:

  • design your website
  • write or design your promotional material
  • write software for your business
  • take photographs for your business

In these situations, a good contract can save you the considerable expense of a copyright dispute. It can be worth seeking legal advice from a specialist. See more on copyright infringement.

Implied licence

If your business commissioned a work and the commissioning contract did not deal specifically with copyright, an 'implied licence' to use the copyrighted work might arise. This could also happen when there is nothing in writing granting you a licence, and even where you have not agreed a licence verbally with the copyright owner.

In both of these cases, you have an explicit licence, although where there is nothing in writing there may, of course, be a disagreement later about whether there is a licence at all. It is always better to ensure that any agreement about copyright or any licence is recorded in some way.

You will only be able to argue that you have an implied licence where all the circumstances suggest that the copyright owner expected you to use his or her copyright material in the way you are going to use it even though this was never discussed and has not been written down anywhere.

Read more about ownership of copyright work.